Recommended Practices in Caring for Alpacas:
(Sources: Camelid Community Standards of Care Working Group*, the Merck Vet Manual, and general farm experience. PLEASE NOTE: In all cases, please consult with your local vetrinarian to determine the best care for your alpaca.)
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Alpacas are domesticated South American members of the camelid family. These animals differ significantly from other species. Beyond the minimums required to sustain any life, the specifications for their care are unique. Alpacas can thrive in a wide range of environments, from ranches with vast open ranges to small suburban properties, and in almost every type of climate and geography. Some live in dry lot conditions and exist entirely on nutrition provided by their owners, while others live on properties with abundant pasture. These animals thrive in an environment where the relationship with humans and other animals is peaceful, basic security is provided, and life activities that fit their nature are included. With proper care from responsible stewards, alpacas and llamas typically enjoy good health, with an average lifespan of 15 to 20+ years.
This information was gathered prepared with addition and assistance of a number of experienced llama and alpaca owners, including practices from our own farm, most of which has been reviewed by veterinarians and representatives of various recognized llama and alpaca organizations. It contains recommended practices based on up-to-date scientific knowledge and community-wide husbandry expertise. It is intended as an educational foundation for recommended camelid care and, as such, to provide the basis for continuity and consistency in that care. In all cases, please consult with your local veterinarian for your specific need.
In addition to the general practice recommendations, region-specific conditions may exist, necessitating additional or differing measures in those locales to insure the health and well-being of the animals. Where available, a camelid-experienced veterinarian should be consulted for local or regional needs. Additionally, consider joining one or more llama and/or alpaca organizations for continuing education, networking and local owner support. The references provided at the end of this document give more detailed and extensive coverage for various aspects of camelid care.
All animals deserve the best possible environment in which to thrive. There are many ways to assure this. The purpose of "Recommended Practices" is to provide basic and important information on providing that environment for llamas and alpacas, beyond minimum requirements. Each camelid caregiver will have his or her practices to assure animal well-being, based on knowledge of the herd individuals, as well as sound husbandry.
Getting Started: The Basics
* A commitment to care for animals 365 days a year in good weather and bad (unless you plan to board them with another breeder). A budget for expenses of management (and marketing if applicable)
* A rudimentary business plan outlining your objectives for conducting and growing your business (unless you just want alpacas as pets)
* A fenced pasture area for your alpacas, adequate to keep out most predators. A smaller enclosure for catching/ feeding/ handling alpacas and/or Some type of shelter appropriate for your weather (barn, loafing shed, large sturdy tent, etc.)
* Forage and/or good grass hay (we suggest a mix that has orchard grass as the base)
* Shredded Beet (* with or without molasses ) for extra nutrition - we used daily to supplement our additives
* Whole Flax seed ( and grinder-- ground just seconds before breakfast)
* Garlic Powder (pre-mixed in shredded beet for natural fly prevention and promotes friendly bacteria aiding digestion.)
* Rake, shovel and wheel-barrow/cart for cleaning up poop.
* A mineral/salt, we use Stillwater Minerals free choice.
* Feed supplement suitable for your type of pasture/hay and area soil - Some that we use are: Healthy Coat Fiber Supplement, and Iron Power - Iron/B Complex Supplement.
* Fresh water supply
* Well-fitted halters and leads for each alpaca
* Toenail clippers for alpacas/llamas
* Wormers such as Panacur or Safeguard 10% Suspension paste/liquid drench (We use the liquid), Ivermectin (injectable) Quest Paste, and Corid for treatment of coccidiosis (consult a local vet to determine the requirements for your region)
* A First-Aid kit containing vet wrap, antiseptic for cleaning wounds, animal thermometer, antibiotic cream (non-steroid), eye ointment.
* Vet who knows something about camelids or is willing to learn
* A mentor, hopefully the breeder from whom you are buying your alpacas
* A book about basic care, such as Caring for Llamas and Alpacas, by Claire Hoffman; (about $24) and as much information as you can gather from the Internet, libraries, etc. If you have joined AOA (Alpaca Owners Assoc.), they also have an excellent library.
* A list of phone numbers for suppliers, including a professional shearer in your area
* If you know how to give injections or are willing to learn, your vet can give you a list of supplies needed: syringes, needles, injectable wormer, vaccines, epinephrine, dyprone for dire emergencies, etc. (see also, list below)
First Aid Basics:
* Vet wrap
* Ace bandage
* Gauze rolls and pads
* Bandaging tape
* Various size syringes, generally 3 cc to 20 cc
* Needles of varying sizes, generally 18 to 22 gauge
* Charcoal (or other poisoning mediator such as Toxiban Suspension)
* Mineral Oil
* Pepto Bismal / Carafate / Immodium D
* Antibiotics (such as LA 200, Penicillin G, Naxel, Agrimycin)
* Hydrogen Peroxide
* Betadine Solution and/or disposable Sponges
* Anti-bacterial Spray such as Well-Horse
* Antibiotic Ointment and Skin Ointments (such as bag balm, zinc oxide)
* Saline Eyewash Solution and cleanser
* Nitrofurazone Ointment
* Blood-stop powder, keep handy when trimming toenails
* Disposable Gloves
* Disposable Razors
* Heat Pad
* Emergency phone numbers
* Clean Stainless Steel Bucket(s)
* Feeders (for grain/mineral salts)
* Scoops / measuring cups for grain
* Heat Pad for Animals
* Worming Medicines (see above)
* Vitamins (such as B Complex, A&D, Vita-charge paste)
* Fly Repellent
* Electrolyte Replacement (We use Apple-Dex)
* Nail Trimmers
* Flashlight and Batteries
* Basic Care Books
* Woodchips (for absorption in barn)
* Rubber Mats (for barn flooring)
* Micro Chips (we use the bio-therm)
Addional items for Breeders and Cria Care:
* Note pad for health care records
* Blanket/pad for ground to keep cria clean
* Charged iPhone/Camera!
* Blood Sample vials and cards (as needed for progesterone or DNA testing)
* Surgical Scrub Such as Betadine or Disposable Betadine Surgical Scrub Pads
* Ziploc Baggies
* Enema bottle
* Nolvasan or other naval dip solution
* Film or pill canister (to hold dipping solution)
* Feeding tube
* Feeding bottle
* Pritchard nipple or other
* Long Disposable Gloves & Latex Gloves
* Digital 10-Second thermometer
* Lubricant (OB Lube)
* Bulb Syringe
* Dental Floss (for tying off umbilical if necessary)
* Weight Scale
* Milk Replacement Formula (Sav-A-Lamb) is what we use.
* Cloth Towels
* Hair Blower/dryer
* Cria coats
* Emergency Phone Numbers
* IGg Test Kit
* Bo-Se Injectable
* Jump-Start Gel (Microbial Gel)
* Light Kayro Corn Syrup
* Pro-biotic Plus
* Frozen colostrum
* Frozen plasma
*Colostrum and Plasma must remain frozen and does have a shelf life -- typically one year. It's expensive to have shipped over night, but I strongly recommend having on hand if needed. If you have other farms close to you, you can pool resources and have one farm store these and split the costs. You will know within a few hours of birth if you need to have the colostrum, so make sure if someone else is storing this, then make sure you can get to it within a few hours.
Plasma you won't know if you need it until the following day. I recommend running an IgG 24 hours after the cria starts to nurse to test cria if it is a poor doer. When you get those results, you'll know if you need a plasma transfer. So, you'll need to have a plan for these BEFORE cria birth.
NOTE: Powdered colostrum does not contain antibodies needed for the new cria. It's a source of nutrition and calories, but it is best for the cria to have actual mom's colostrum or frozen colostrum with antibodies within 12 hours of birth.
A few valuable resource for medical supplies and equipment:
Light Livestock Equipment
PBS Animal Health
Useful Llama Items
Kent Labs Triple J Farms (for plasma)
These lists are a general list of items and is not intended to be all-inclusive. Store all items appropriately and be mindful of expiration dates. For a list of items most appropriate for your area, consult your veterinarian.
Questions we need to ask ourselves:
(1) What do alpacas need for Nutrients?
(2) What are they getting from our pastures or hay?
(3) What do we need to provide in a supplement?
(4) Can we check to see if what we are doing is OK?
1. What do they need? Simply to survive, not very much. On the Altiplano, of Chile, Peru, and Bolivia they subsist on anything from lush grass during the rainy season to very little ground coverage for a good portion of the year. They have to breed for cria births during the rainy season so that the females will have enough milk to keep the cria alive.
Because of the value of these animals in North America, we are not content to have the mortality rates of South America, I learned while visiting Peru with Dr. Purdy, and Dr. Dewitt, that 30% of the cria do not live beyond one month of age. The fertility rates, are also quite high, reportedly anywhere from 30% to 50%. There are those who believe that, when it comes to alpacas, because they are hardy animals, that less is better. A well known Veterinarian from Kentucky, completed a study of 22,000 Llamas and 3,000 Alpacas across 27 states. He concluded that 80% of Lama medical problems are nutrition related. He noted, that breeders with 10 to 15 years experience were losing animals due to malnutrition.
We must however not get carried away with the thought of feeding our animals well, to the point of overfeeding. Some alpacas will over eat and become fat if given the opportunity, Overfed alpaca can also reduce greatly the quality of their fiber.
The best information we have to date, has been published by Dr. LaRue Johnson DVM. of Veterinary Clinics of North America. Added to this information are levels published by Dr. Murray Fowler and Dr. Brian Evans. The levels of key elements in total diet are:
10% - 16%
.6% - .75%
.3% - .5%
1% - 1.5% (Evans)
.34% - .4% (Evans)
55% - 65%
up to 400 iu/day
up to 2mg/day
60 - 70 ppm
5 - 10 ppm (Fowler)
15000 iu/day (Fowler)
1500 to 3000 iu/day (Fowler)
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin A deficiency may result in reduced resistance to infection, impaired growth and improper tooth and bone formation. Zinc is necessary for the mobilization of Vitamin A.
Vitamin D plays a dual role as both a vitamin and a hormone. It functions to increase absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D conversion in the skin is restricted by lack of sunlight due to our North American northern latitudes as compared to the camelids native to South America. The fiber of both llamas and alpacas decreases the amount of sunlight reaching the skin. In addition, in the warmer parts of the United Stated States, llamas and alpacas are encouraged to spend the daylight hours in the shade. A deficiency of Vitamin D is responsible for rickets. In its milder form it may be blamed on poor conformation in the show ring.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant and is enhanced by other antioxidants, such as selenium. Its function is to stabilize membranes and protect them against free radical damage and to protect tissues of the skin, eye, and liver. In addition, Vitamin E protects and vitalizes the testicles for improved virility.
The Vitamin B Story:
Everyone knows B-Vitamins are essential for good health. In fact, they're a critical component in the metabolism of all species of animals and plants. They're also a well-recognized requirement for normal growth and other physiological functions. But, in healthy adult llamas or alpacas, sufficient levels of B-Vitamins are already produced by microorganisms within the rumen. And, with the exception of young or stressed animals, "B" supplements may not be needed at all.
Previously known as a single vitamin, "B" actually consists of several distinct water-soluble vitamins with different functions. That's why they're typically referred to as B-complex Vitamins. And while only very small amounts of B-Vitamins are needed, they're vital to the health and vigor of your alpacas. B12, for example, contributes to growth and normal appetite. Niacin is needed for hair and skin health. Riboflavin is critical for a variety of growth and reproductive functions. Thiamine aids in growth, heart function and temperature regulation. Pantothenic acid promotes proper muscle and nerve function. And pyridoxine is necessary for normal growth and development.
The following list includes the major water-soluble B-Vitamins.
THIAMIN - B1
RIBOFLAVIN - B2
NIACIN - B3
PANTOTHENIC ACID - B5
PYRIDOXINE - B6
COBALAMIN – B12
Why The Rumen Is The Best Source Of "B": The fact is, B-Vitamins are generally not needed by ruminants like llamas and alpacas. Even when there's a lack of "B" in the feed itself, the rumen synthesizes and produces an ample supply of various B-Vitamins needed by the animal. This is why deficiencies are relatively uncommon in most alpacas-especially once they've matured and the rumen is well-developed.
However, deficiencies can occur as a result of poor health or improperly balanced rations (low-protein levels or mineral deficiencies). These factors can lower the number of microorganisms in the rumen, or drastically alter its synthesis process. If normal bacterial action doesn't take place in the rumen, B-Vitamin production may be too low for the animal's healthy growth and development.
Until the age of 6 weeks to 3 months, crias don't yet have a fully functioning rumen. Therefore, to ensure effective rumen function for adult llamas and sufficient levels of "B" for crias, it's essential to provide both with a properly balanced diet.
Water Soluble Vitamins
Vitamin B1 deficiency may result in gastrointestinal disturbances, constipation and intestinal inflammation. 90-96% of B1 is produced in the rumen by microbial action, it is questionable as to whether this synthesis is adequate for an animal's needs, particularly when hay is fed.
Vitamin B2 functions with coenzymes and is important in energy production and essential for normal fatty acid and amino acid synthesis. Deficiency may result in dermatitis, dryness of skin and fiber and also, malformations and retarded growth in young llamas and alpacas.
Vitamin B3 deficiencies affect every cell, but most critically the tissues with rapid cell turnover, such as the skin. Classic symptoms are dermatitis and diarrhea.
Vitamin B12 plays a role in the activation of amino acids during protein formation. Proper DNA replication is dependent on the function of coenzymes and Vitamin B12 as a methyl group carrier. The need for Vitamin B12 is increased by pregnancy. "Ill Thrift" may in part be a result of cobalt or vitamin B12 deficiency, possibly coupled with a toxic plant.
Biotin functions to aid the incorporation of amino acids into protein and reducing the symptoms of zinc deficiency. Biotin play a major role in the production of fiber.
Minerals are components of body tissues and fluids that work in combination with enzymes, hormones and Vitamins. They work either in combination with each other or compete with each other for absorption. Some minerals actually enhance the absorption of other minerals. That is why it is important to balance the minerals specifically for llamas and alpacas.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral. 98% of the calcium in the llama or alpaca is in bone tissue and is therefore critical to structure and strength. Calcium absorption is Vitamin D dependent and a lack of either one will result in retarded bone growth. The ratio of Calcium to Phosphorus in the overall diet is critical. Diets high in phosphorus and low in calcium have been linked to soft tissue calcification and bone loss.
Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the llama and alpaca. Many enzymes and the B Vitamins are activated only in the presence of Phosphorus. Calcium and Phosphorus are closely related. Fluctuations in one mineral will be reflected by subsequent fluctuations in the other. The natural ratio of Calcium to Phosphorus in bones and teeth is 2:1, this is an ideal ratio in the overall diet. Alfalfa and grains are higher in Calcium than the ideal 2:1 ratio; therefore, the supplementation of higher levels of Phosphorus are necessary.
Potassium is used in intracellular fluid transmission. Potassium functions to maintain cellular integrity and water balance and is involved in muscle contraction and protein metabolism. Hot weather or stress may deplete potassium.
Iron deficiency may be evident in a low red blood cell count. The condition of anemia will be aggravated by parasites.
Magnesium is associated with tissue breakdown and cell destruction. Also helps in the formation of urea and as such is important in removing excess ammonia for the body. This helps the llama or alpaca to deal with hot weather and stress.
Manganese deficiency may be caused by large amounts of calcium and phosphorus in the intestine. Signs of a deficiency are sterility and testicular degeneration, weak offspring and poor survival rates.
Cobalt can replace zinc in some enzymes and participates in the biotin dependent oxalaxetate. Deficiency shows up as emaciated and anemic animals.
Iodine deficiencies may include impaired physical development of the fetus, a lower basal metabolic rate and poorly formed bones.
Copper competes with zinc for entry from the intestines and an increase in zinc might precipitate a copper deficiency. During growth, the largest concentrations of copper occur in developing tissues. Deficiency may result in a low white blood cell count, kinky or poor quality fiber and impaired growth. Impaired immunity and increased risk of prolonged duration of infections are all indications of a copper deficiency. *CAUTION: Copper should not exceed 60 mg. per head per day, or 20 ppm in the total feeding program. Levels of Copper considered normal for other species may be toxic to lamas. Research has indicated that alpacas and llamas should have 10 to 20 ppm in the total feeding program and may become toxic in the 60 ppm range over time. If you are in doubt, please contact your Veterinarian.
Selenium is a trace mineral that functions either alone or as a part of enzyme systems. Selenium parallels the antioxidant and free radical scavenging action of Vitamin E. In general Vitamin E and selenium do not replace each other but are involved in overlapping systems. In llamas and alpacas selenium plays a major role in the normal development of the fetus during pregnancy and vitality of newborn. Llamas and alpacas require higher levels of selenium than most other species.
Zinc functions indirectly as an antioxidant and is used in bone metabolism and plays a major role in necessary skin oil gland function. Zinc also functions in DNA synthesis, wound healing, the immune system, and reducing infant morbidity. Chelated form of zinc is preferred and is less effected by competitions for absorption from other minerals.
A mineral panel includes:
Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Zinc. You can use a red top, tiger top, or blue top vial to place the blood into. Spinning down before mailing is suggested. Cost for this panel is under $100, from M&M Veterinary Lab. Other tests they conduct: Brucellosis, BVD PCR, Camelid IgG, Estradiol, Occult Heart-worm, Progesterone, Selenium, Testosterone, Thyroid, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E. For a complete CBC (Complete Blood Panel), which the RBC (Red Blood Cell) is part of, contact a state agency.
Under basal conditions, an alpaca will eat 1.5% to 2% of their body weight per day. At 2% a 150 lb. alpaca will eat about 1.4 kg or 3 pounds of food per day on a dry-matter basis. Legumes are usually not needed and may result in obesity. Body condition can best be assessed by palpating the amount of tissue over the lumbar vertebrae, typically referred to as body scoring. See 3) Physical Assessment below for further details.
Most mature males, and females during mid-gestation, will maintain appropriate body condition on 10-14/16% crude protein grass hay with total digestible nutrients (TDN) of 50-60%. Late gestation and heavily lactating females require a slightly higher percentage of crude protein and TDN of 65-70%.
2. What are they getting from pastures and hay? We need to analyze the grass/pasture and hay to determine the need for and types of supplements that are required for our alpacas. With this information and the above information we can do the calculations necessary. Results from a sample forage analysis coming soon.
3. Supplementation: If you ask people if they feed their alpacas a supplement about 95% will say "yes", and of those about 60% will say "in the winter". If you ask what they supplement you will hear all kinds of answers, but mostly you will hear grain, Alpaca/Llama Pellets, our own grain mixture, Free choice minerals, mineral blocks.
If you want to feed grain, first of all make sure that it is cracked or preferably rolled, Alpacas don't digest whole grain very well, and secondly know why you are feeding it. When feeding grain, you are adding a carbohydrate for extra energy or heat (in winter) and with some grains a small amount of protein. Grains are deficient in Calcium, Phosphorus and trace minerals.
If you wish to use free choice minerals you must understand that you are going to get a very wide range of results in your animals. There are some alpacas that will eat up to 50 grams of a mineral powder or more, per day, and many will eat none at all. If the aim is to supplement say 2 mg of selenium/alpaca/day and your free choice mineral supplement has 125mg/kg you better hope the largest consumer of that product does not eat more than 15 to 20 grams a day, and if the product has a low of 30 mg/kg you have to hope that the one that consumes the least amount of the product eats at least 60 grams/day. In reality it is hard to determine exactly what your animals are getting on an individual basis.
The trick to uniform supplementation is to provide the required elements, in the right concentrations, in a prepared feed, such as pellets, that the alpacas want to eat so that they will get their share.
4. To determine if the supplementation is effective, you may do periodic blood sampling. Routinely sample alpacas that are either on the low or high end of the scale, for any particular elements, compared to other alpacas, along with random samples from other alpacas. We do a mineral panel of seven elements, with occasional add ons such as zinc. When making a change to the diet with specific results in mind, allow about 2 or 3 months before doing the next set of blood samples to see if the change has given us the desired result. Clinical Pathology: Hematology and clinical chemistries are similar to those in other species with a few significant differences. Camelid RBC are relatively small and may produce anomalous results when evaluated using an automated cell counter. Therefore, instrument adjustment or manual determination is needed for accurate estimations of RBC numbers and the RBC indices.
Normal PCV is 27-45%, and normal RBC numbers are 10.1-17.3 × 106/µL. Normal WBC counts are 8,000-21,400/µL.
Reasons that nutrition is so important:
Viable birth weights - Proper growth rates - Proper development of all body parts, eg. Straight legs etc. - Disease resistance - May eliminate the need for injections re: selenium, vitamins E, A,& D - Healthy skin, thus proper follicle and fibre alignment. Gives the animals genes the ability to live up to their full potential. Geneticists tell us that genes are responsible for about 60% of the animals makeup, the remainder is environmental.
Seasonal Hypovitaminosis D:
Characterized by diminished growth, angular limb deformities, kyphosis, and a reluctance to move, can be a problem in heavily fibered animals raised in regions with poor sun exposure during winter months. The problem is most severe in rapidly growing, fall-born crias. Serum phosphorus of <3.0 mg/dL, a calcium:phosphorus ratio of >3:1, and vitamin D concentrations of <15 nmol/L in crias <6 mo old are diagnostic. Normal phosphorus and vitamin D concentrations in this age group are 6.5-9.0 mg/dL and >50 nMol/L, respectively.
Other Practices to follow:
1. Provide continuous access to potable water. The animals should not be required to break through ice or eat snow for their water. In extreme heat, water that is cool to the touch encourages consumption and helps avoid dehydration. In extreme cold, lukewarm water does the same. Consider periodic water quality testing.
2. Provide daily access to quality, mold-free hay and/or nutritious pasture. In general for adult maintenance, total feed should contain 10-12% crude protein, dry matter basis, offered at the rate of 1.5%-3% of body weight. Growing youngsters and late term pregnant or early lactating females may need 12-16% crude protein, dry matter basis. This may be obtained by using forage with higher protein content and/or a high-protein supplement. Because of subtle differences, llamas require the lower levels of protein while alpacas requirements are higher. However, individual animals can require more or less feed. Use Body Condition Scoring (BCS) (see reference below) and consult with a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to determine
3. If not pre-mixed into a supplemental feed being offered, provide free choice access to minerals appropriate for the species and the region. (A loose form is preferred.) Take any known mineral toxicities into consideration (e.g., copper, selenium).
4. To feed a cria that requires human intervention, by utilizing a feeding tube or bottle regimen that minimizes human bonding. Supplemental feeding by humans should be done only when medically necessary and the cria should continue to reside with its mother and/or the herd to ensure appropriate behavioral development. Inappropriate animal-human bonding may result in severe behavior problems.
1. Provide natural or man-made shelter with sufficient ventilation and space to allow each llama and alpaca to find relief from environmental conditions (e.g., extreme cold, heat, humidity, precipitation, wind chill, waterlogged ground/standing water during periods of wet weather).
2. Provide a heating source or cooling measures when temperatures reach extremes, whether at home or traveling. Heat stress (hyperthermia) and hypothermia are life-threatening conditions. (See "Safe-keeping" section for more information.)
3. In enclosed areas, manure should be routinely disposed of, mud prevented, and any urine build-up treated to prevent parasite problems and disease.
4. Provide fencing of sufficient height and strength to safely contain alpacas in designated areas. Fencing design should prevent animals from becoming entangled. Barbed wire is not recommended.
5. House only the number of animals per enclosure that allows free and independent movement of each animal when not at work with a human, as well as the ability to exercise each day. Physical location and conditions (i.e., terrain, vegetation, availability of pasture, etc.), as well as herd composition (males, weanlings, females, etc.) will dictate the appropriate number of animals that can live within a defined area. As a general rule of thumb, an area of 15 square feet per alpaca would be a minimum.
6. Alpacas are browsing and grazing animals. Where possible, provide them the opportunity to browse and graze daily.
7. In temporary situations such as at shows, or in case of health problems, alpacas may be kept in small spaces for a limited period of time. For longer periods (e.g., animals that are in quarantine), they should be exercised each day.
1. Alpacas need to live in association with other herd animals, preferably at least one other alpaca. Without appropriate companionship, most will fail to thrive. Therefore, it is recommended that alpacas never live alone. An alpaca should not be raised as a single baby away from any other camelids.
2. Alpha or highly territorial males may need to be corralled separately, but should be within sight of other alpacas.
3. Crias should remain with their dams until at least four months of age. (Six months or seventy pounds is recommended to promote normal behavior and to assure good nutrition (allow for maturation of the fore-stomach)). When deprived of this herd environment during their growth and development, they can develop severely abnormal ways of relating
to humans at sexual maturity or earlier.
4. Crias should never be sold as pets to be intentionally bottle-fed. Bottle-feeding should take place in a herd environment and only when medically necessary to ensure the health of the dam and/or the cria.
What is A Parasite?
A parasite is an organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in another type of organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host. In this instance, the host is our alpacas although all other livestock become the hosts for parasites too. There are two classifications of parasites that affect our alpacas. The first one is Internal parasites, parasites that live and feed inside the alpacas body. These are most often different varieties of worms that live and multiply in the small intestine or the stomach of the alpaca. The second classification is External parasites, those that live and feed off the outside of the alpacas body. Some examples of external parasites are ticks, flies, mosquitoes, lice, and mites.
Affects of Internal Parasites:
There are many types of internal parasites known that infect alpacas and keeping our alpacas safe from these parasites is a year-round job for the alpaca owner. If parasites are not controlled, the alpaca can become unhealthy and unthrifty. A heavy load of parasites can cause the alpaca to become sickly and lose weight since the worms living in the alpaca steal a lot of the nutrition that is needed by the alpaca. Internal parasites can be a severe problem to alpacas sometimes even causing death.
Herd Management, Pasture Management, Soil Management
Good herd management is the primary prevention of parasite problems. A good nutritional program and awareness of the overall health of your animals is the first basic, but very important, step. Parasites are more likely to seek out and attack weak or failing animals. Good sanitation, pasture rotation, and the weather also play a big part in the control of parasites on your farm. The weather can make a big difference in parasites on your farm. Many think the winter's cold temperatures kill the parasites, but in fact the summer heat is more effective in killing parasites.
The Life Cycle Of Parasites:
Without proper management, the internal parasites become a constant cycle. The worms live inside the alpaca getting nutrition from the alpaca's body. When the worms are adult, they lay eggs. The eggs get passed out of the alpaca in their feces, or manure, and end up in the pasture. Then the eggs either hatch into larva in the manure or on the ground. Rain then washes the manure off of the larva and the larva is left to live on the blades of grass. Then alpaca may swallow the larva while grazing. Once inside the nice environment of a warm alpaca, the eggs and larva will mature into adults in about three weeks. These adults now lay more eggs and the cycle starts all over again. So if the alpaca owner does not practice good de-worming herd management, the animals will eventually have a very heavy load of adult parasites. Carrying a heavy load of internal parasites also means a alpaca is getting only partial value from his food.
What about the alpacas that are wild in the mountains of South America and don't have owners to de-worm them? Why don't they get sickly from parasites? alpacas that are out in the wild travel a large area while grazing and browsing. So, since they are moving from area to area, most of the time they are in new, clean grasses that do not contain eggs and larvae so they are not ingesting eggs. Our alpaca herds here are often in smaller confined areas and if there are too many alpacas for the area (over crowded pastures), then the chance of having parasites is much greater.
A useful reference for Diagnosis of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Camelids and Small Ruminants is a link here. (Dr. Stephen R. Purdy, DVM)
The most common signs of internal parasites are generally diarrhea and weight loss. These are some of the most common internal parasites that we encounter here in the Midwest area.
Trichuris - Commonly known as Whipworms in the Intestine; The eggs of this species may survive for years. This worm lives in the large intestine of the alpaca. The eggs are passed in the feces and the larva develops inside of the eggs. When eaten by the alpaca or the host, the eggs hatch in the small intestine and then migrate into the large intestine and develop into adults. The adults then lay eggs to continue the life cycle.
Moniezia - Commonly known as Tapeworm. A long tapeworm passed in a soft stool. The head of a tapeworm. The adult is a long, white, flat worm that is in segments. A small single segment of the tapeworm. This is what you will normally see in the alpaca poop that looks like a grain or rice. The flat tapeworm stretched out. This is not the complete worm as some segments have come off. The adult tapeworm is a white flat worm that is in segments. The tapeworm attaches to the wall of the alpaca's small intestine. Segments, or pieces of the tapeworm, which contain eggs, are passes into the feces and may be seen in the alpaca's manure. They will look like small grains of rice. The eggs are then eaten by the oribatid mite, an intermediate host. This mite lives on the grass or on the feces and contains the tapeworm larvae. Now the mite is eaten by the alpaca while eating pasture grasses. The larvae attach to the alpaca's intestinal wall, mature into adults, and continue the life cycle.
Trichostrongylus - Commonly known as stomach worm. Strongyle Egg. These eggs develop rapidly, hatching in less than twenty hours in summer temperatures (70 - 80 degrees F.) If the eggs dry out before they hatch they become dormant and can survive for as long as 15 months. It is not often possible to identify strongyle eggs to genus level as the eggs of most strongylid and trichostrongylid species are similar in appearance and overlapping in size. If identification is necessary the fecal sample must be cultured to provide L3 larvae for further examination. These are very small stomach worms that live in the small intestine of the alpaca. The eggs are passed in the feces. They hatch and develop into larvae in the soil and in the feces. The alpaca may then eat these larvae from the soil or from their feed or water. The larvae grow to adulthood in the stomach and small intestine.
Nematodirus - (thread-necked strongyle) These eggs hatch very rapidly in wet weather. Cool, wet weather and lush, moist pastures are ideal conditions for eggs to live. The eggs of this parasite are very large and are distinctive under the microscope. They are very sturdy eggs and may even survive the winter in the feces or the soil. The larvae develop inside of the egg and may survive for several months in the soil or in vegetation. The alpaca then eats the larvae on the pasture grasses which then mature into adults in the alpaca's small intestine.
Coccidia - Summary: Eimeria (Coccidia) - Coccidia are tiny one-celled organisms which multiply in the intestinal tract of many animals. The resulting disease, called coccidiosis, is most common in young animals or animals that are stressed - possibly from moving to a new farm. The disease is more common in the fall and winter months. Coccidia are spread in the feces of an infected animal and most commonly exists when animals are overcrowded into small areas or where unsanitary conditions exist. However an animal must ingest a large number of coccidia organisms in order to get sick. If an animal ingests only a small amount, he probably will not get sick and it will produce immunity to this disease. The main sign of coccidiosis is diarrhea. Depending on the level of infection, the diarrhea may become severe and blood may be present. Then the animal becomes depressed, loses weight, becomes dehydrated, and may become very sick. Death can occur. Corid is the most common treatment for coccidiosis and can be given by mouth or in the drinking water. Coccidia is very species specific. There are four species known to be found in lamas, eimeria alpacae, lamae, macusanienis, and punoensis.
Identification: It is difficult to distinguish between e. alpacae and e. lamae as they only differ in size by ~ 10 microns and both are treated effectively with Corid. E. macusanienis is easily identified by its avocado shape and is quite large and is best treated with Albon. There have not yet been any e. punensis in an alpaca.
Treatment: The recommended dosage for amprolium (the active ingredient in Corid) is 10mg/# of BW for 5 days. The preventative dose is 2.5mg/# for 21 days. The administration directions on the 9.6% solution is for cattle and is calculated assuming that cattle will drink 1 gallon of water per 100#'s of BW. Alpacas will consume ~ .5 to .75 gallons of water per 100#'s of BW. Consumption can vary depending on the ambient conditions and the available forage. It may be wise to estimate the daily water intake slightly and use the rate of .5 gal per 100# BW. The 9.6% (.096) solution means that a liter of the solution will contain 96g of Amprolium and 1ml will contain 96mg. A one gallon container of Corid contains 363.36g of Amprolium (96g x 3.785).
First you should know the total weight of the animals that you are treating. You will also need to know the weight to calculate the estimated water consumption.
Example: Total BW = 2,200#. Treatment dosage 10mg/#, 2,200 x 10mg/# = 22,000mg or 2.2g needed to treat the herd 22,000mg divided by 96mg/ml = 229ml needed to treat the herd or 229ml divided by 30ml/fl oz = 7.6fl oz needed to treat the herd for one day. Make your calculations for every group of animals.
Now you need to get the Amprolium in the alpaca. There have not been many published numbers on the water consumption of alpacas, but consumption can vary depending on the ambient conditions and the available forage. It may be best to under estimate the daily water intake slightly and use the rate of .5 gal per 100# BW. In this example, the herd is estimated to consume 11 gal per day (2,200/100 x .5). The more buckets of water that are offered; the greater the chance that everyone will get the required dosage.
Amprolium is a thiamine analog and competitively inhibits the active transport of thiamine. The coccidia are 50 times as sensitive to this inhibition as is the host.
Should you choose to supplement B vitamins during treatment it is not recommended to give orally as it will offset the the oral coccidial treatment. Many probiotics contain B vitamins.
Dr. Evans recommends 20-25 mg/lb of body weight of Amprolium for the treatment of coccidia. It is most commonly dosed at a rate of 10mg/# which has been the recommended dosage. With 96mg/ml, an alpaca weighing 100#'s would require ~10ml of 9.6% Corid solution for a daily dose (100# x 10mg/# divided by 9.6mg/ml).
Vets have also recommended the 5mg/lb, but may not be afraid to go with 10mg/lb for heavy infestation. Alpacas also don't drink as much water as cattle so treating a herd with treated water could lead to under dosing if all the water is not consumed when given at the cattle rate of 1gal/100lbs. Sample guideline: alpacas drink 1/2 - 3/4 gal/100lbs of BW.
Albon. also used to treat coccidia, is available in a 12.5% solution. Each ml contains 125mg of sulfadimethoxine. I have always used this product at the recommended label dosage of 25mg/# on day 1 and 12.5mg/# for 4 days. An alpaca weighing 75#'s would require 15ml for the first day and half that amount on the next 4 days (75# x 25mg/# divided by 125mg/ml). It has been noted that Albon may be the preffered treatment for cria.
Meningeal Worm in Alpaca: Parelaphostrongylus
Meningeal worm is a parasite that affects alpacas. A parasite whose natural host is the white-tailed deer. This is a natural parasite which lives in, but does not affect, white-tailed deer. Read the questions and answers below to become informed about this parasite.
What is meningeal worm?
Meningeal worm is a great concern to alpaca owners in areas, particularly in the North Eastern states, where white-tailed deer have a heavy population. Although we have white-tailed deer in Massachusetts, luckily this doesn't seem to be a very large problem here. There has been no evidence of Meningeal Worm on the island of Martha's Vineyard.
How does my alpaca get m. worm?
First, you must reside in an area where white-tailed deer exist. Eggs hatch in a deers lungs. The larvae are coughed up and swallowed by the deer. The larvae are then passed to the feces and excreted onto the ground. The alpaca then may inadvertently ingest the snail when browsing and become infected. The larvae find an intermediate host in snails and slugs. Your alpaca ingests the infected snail or slug. Once the larvae are in the stomach, they penetrate the stomach wall and enter spinal nerves. Then they travel to the spinal cord or brain, migrating into the central nervous system causing neurological abnormalities in the alpaca. The disease cannot be passed without the ingestion of an infected snail or slug.
What are the symptoms of meningeal worm infection?
Some of the symptoms seen might be: Staggering, rear leg weakness, lameness, uncoordinated gait, stiffness, paraplegia, paralysis, circling, abnormal head tilt, blindness, gradual weight loss, inability to eat.
Can m. worm kill my alpaca?
Yes. Damage to the central nervous system can be severe enough to cause death, if aggressive treatment is not begun immediately.
How is the parasite detected?
There is no definitive way to detect it in a live animal. Symptoms and lab values are used to diagnose m. worm.
How is m. worm treated once an alpaca is infected?
Usually, some type of dewormer is used to kill the parasite. Steroids and anti-inflammatories are used to prevent inflammation and swelling from damaging the spinal cord. Supportive care is, also, used in the form of physical therapy. Keeping blood flow to muscles by massaging helps keep them healthy and allows the animal to recover better.
Will my alpaca recover completely?
Depends on how much damage was done. Once the larvae migrate into the nervous tissue, any damage that occurs is usually irreversible.
Can an infected alpaca pass the meningeal worm to other alpacas?
Your alpaca must ingest an infected snail or slug to get m. worm. Alpacas are considered a dead-end host. The larvae in alpacas do not mature and produce eggs that mature into larvae that pass out of the animal. They stay in the central nervous system.
How do I prevent meningeal worm in my alpacas?
Prevention is the key. The current practice has been to give a dose of Ivermectin every 30 days to alpacas in areas with white-tailed deer. However, overuse of Ivermectin has resulted in increasing drug resistance among parasites in alpacas. Work with your vet. Your worming program should be tailored to your individual farm and geographic area. You can put up a deer-proof fence with a gravel or paved area along the outside of the fence to attempt to keep snails and slugs out of your pastures. This is expensive. You can use a molluscicide, but it might be poisonous to your alpacas, so be careful. Your vet should have up-to-date information to prevent meningeal worm infections.
Controlling The Parasite Problem :
As part of preventive health maintenance for alpacas, owners de-worm them with various medications on a proper deworming schedule. Controlling the number of eggs and infective larva that a alpaca consumes is the starting point of any effective de-worming program. The de-worming schedule is important as well as the type and dosage of medication administered.
Ideally deworming is administered to those alpaca that have the need for it. Knowing this would be the result of ongoing fecal sampling/testing.
We are increasingly diagnosing resistance among intestinal parasites in llamas and alpacas. We recommend doing a follow-up fecal exam 2 weeks after treatment to confirm that the treatment has worked. A fecal egg count reduction test (checking the parasite egg count before and 14 to 21 days after de-worming medication is given) allows evaluation of de-worming efficacy. We expect to see >90 % egg reduction if successful. These tests can be done using the Modified Stoll's Fecal Test. This is the only test available sensitive enough to detect the low egg counts expected after de-worming.
When de-worming, the entire herd could receive the medication - except for those females that are within 30 days of birthing or within 30 days of breeding. (Females in this stage should not receive any medications.) Then after approximately three days the pastures should be cleaned of the manure on the ground to prevent the alpacas from re-infecting themselves with parasite eggs in the pasture. The eggs take 3-4 days to mature so you have that length of time to remove manure from the contaminated pastures. This will greatly decrease the chances of new infections. Or, another good method is pasture rotation: put the animals into a new, clean pasture until the first pasture is cleaned and sun dried.
However de-worming is not the only effective way to help control parasites. Managing your alpaca's environment is one of the best strategies for parasite control. Since the major objective is preventing pastures from being contaminated with worm eggs, manure removal from their barn areas and pastures will greatly help in breaking up the parasite life cycles. When cleaning pastures, although not all the manure may be able to be removed, the manure is getting raked and broken up, so on hot, dry days, the sun dries out the eggs and larvae and they die. Parasitic larva in manure in the sunlight dries out whereas larva in manure in moist, damp, dark areas survive for months. Cool, wet weather and lush, moist pastures are ideal conditions for eggs to live.
Hay racks, feed dishes, water buckets, and automatic waterers should be regularly cleaned to prevent any possibility of parasites living there. alpacas should not be fed on the ground, as this would increase the likelihood of alpacas infecting themselves with parasites that may be living on ground vegetation. To check how effective your parasite management program is you can have your veterinarian check your alpaca’s feces for parasite eggs.
Some infective larva, such as Nematodirus and Trichurs, can even become dormant over the winter and survive temperatures to 20 below zero. Then they can become infective again about one month after pastures begin new growth in April and May. For this reason, only third generation wormers that are larvacidal are recommended for treatment. Examples are Ivermectin, Oxbendazole (Synanthic), and Albendazole (Valbazen). A third generation wormer attacks the eggs, the larva, and the adults. Panacur or Safeguard is only effective for adult worms and does not affect the larva. Ivermectin or Dectomax is mainly effective on Brown Stomach Worms and Meningeal Worm. Both Valbazen and Synanthic address Nematodirus and Trichurs. Strongyles normally will respond to Fenbendalzole (Panacue or Safeguard) or Ivermectin.
Every worming program should be tailored specifically to the individual farm: no one policy is going to be appropriate for every situation. These are best worked out in conjunction with your local veterinarian and we would be happy to consult with them should further advice be required. In general though, we need to be concerned about the potential for parasite drug resistance in our animals since indiscriminate use of anthelmintics (these are drugs to treat internal parasites, e.g. Panacur, Safeguard, Ivermectin, etc) can lead to "problem parasites" and we only have a limited number of drugs at our disposal. For this reason, periodic fecal exams and judicious use of anthelmintic drugs is the responsible way to ensure that your farm remains disease-free.
Some farms may only require dosing for gastrointestinal parasites twice a year and others may need to worm every 2 months. The frequency of worming depends a lot on your stocking density and management practices. Also, always dose animals individually based on weights: I strongly encourage you to purchase a set of scales for your farm. Under-dosing is another easy way to induce drug resistant parasites. In 2003, we have seen the emergence of "dual-resistance" herds. These herds have intestinal parasites resistant to BOTH ivermectin AND fenbendazole. This is a very grave concern and we have seen many llama and alpaca deaths from this problem. You need to keep vigilant with herd monitoring.
Article: Gastrointestinal Parasites in Camelids
Pamela G. Walker, DVM, MS, DipACVIM-LA
Farm Veterinarian, Alpaca Jack's Suri Farm
Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University
Internal parasites can be a problem in Camelids without appropriate monitoring. There are many different parasites that need to be considered. Parasites that we consider to be the most important in older crias through adult camelids are Strongyles (which includes Nematodirus), Trichuris (Whipworms), Capillaria, Tapeworms, Coccidians and in some parts of the country Liver flukes and Lungworms. In crias, we are concerned about Cryptosporidium, Giardia and Coccidians. This article will concentrate on adult type parasites.
There are many different Strongyle parasites and in a regular fecal floatation, the many different types can not be differentiated (with a few exceptions) and are referred to as Strongyle type of parasites. The major parasites found in the third compartment (C3 or true stomach) are Haemonchus, Trichostrongylus, Ostertagia, and three that are like Ostertagia: Camelostrongylus, Teladorsagia and Marshallagia. Small intestinal worms are Cooperia, Nematodirus, Trichostrongylus, Lamanema and Tapeworms. These parasites do not cause diarrhea, but rather weight loss, ill thrift and low protein. Many parasites are variable egg shedders; one egg found in a fecal exam may represent a significant problem. Haemonchus is known for causing severe anemia and protein loss if the infection is significant.
Whipworms, Capillaria, and Oesophagostomum are found in the cecum and large intestine. Whipwormsand Capillaria are not commonly found in fecal analysis due in part to adult parasites shedding eggs intermittently and the eggs do not float very well unless saturated sugar solution is used. Both are clinically important and resistant to treatment. The larvae initially penetrates the small intestine where they mature, then the larvae migrates to the cecum and large intestine and become adults. The adults tunnel into the intestinal mucosa traumatizing vessels causing enteritis and diarrhea.
Camelids are susceptible to several species of liver flukes with Fasciola hepatica and F. magna being the most important in the U.S., particularly in the Pacific Northwest. These parasites can cause an ill-thrift syndrome characterized by low protein and changes in blood work that indicates liver disease with specific increases in GGT concentration and Bilirubin.
Whether or not Tapeworms can cause significant disease is controversial in some circles. They also are a parasite egg not frequently found in a routine fecal float. With increasing parasite load the eggs can be found more readily, especially when using saturated sugar solution and centrifugation method. What most owners notice are those pesky looking pieces of "rice" in the dung pile - or even on occasion some very long strands of white "string". The Tapeworm (Moniezia) of ruminants is a very long worm (2 meters or more) and are passed to alpacas when they ingest contaminated forage mites. Infection tends to be one of young alpacas (weanling to yearlings) taking 6 weeks to develop to adult parasites within the alpaca with the adult worm living for approximately 3 months. Although rare, I have seen them cause clinical disease, even death from impaction in one instance.
There are several types of Eimeria species or Coccidia that can infect Camelids. These are species specific parasites with differing degree of pathogenicity. Eimeria lamae is considered to be the most pathogenic of the smaller coccidia, with Eimeria alpacae being the least pathogenic. Eimeria macusaniensis (E. mac)is the largest, slowest maturing and most significant of the coccidian parasites. For simplicity I refer to E. alpacae as small coccidia, E. lamae as medium coccidia and E. mac as large coccidia.
E. mac was first reported in the United States in 1988. Like other Coccidian type parasites, it is species specific infecting alpacas as well as llamas (guanacos and vicunas). There are many differences from "regular" (small and medium) coccidia. E. mac takes longer than other coccidia for the infection to mature in the animal (time until you can find the oocyst in a fecal analysis). It also sheds for longer in the feces, greater than 45 days. The youngest it can be seen is about 45 days of age verses 21 days of age for "regular" coccidia. Although we do not currently know how prevalent E. mac is in the U.S., we do know there is widespread concern by camelid owners across the country. E. mac can be seen in all ages, with clinical disease seen more frequently in younger crias and breeding age females traveling to a new farm. If E. mac is present on a farm, herd immunity will develop in adults; leaving the younger animals the most susceptible to infection and disease. It will also expose naive animals (never exposed to E. mac before) that are new to the farm to infection with E. mac. These naïve animals should be monitored closely as serious disease (even fatalities) can occur before any clinical signs are seen. This is the primary (justified) cause of concern of camelid owners. Further complications are that clinical signs can range from no signs to severe diarrhea. Any animal that shows signs of ill thrift, weight loss, and/or diarrhea should be evaluated by your veterinarian. The first step is to run a proper fecal analysis (centrifugation using saturated sugar solution) and to determine if the protein and albumin concentrations are decreased. If you are suspicious of E. mac infection and the fecal is negative, but the protein and albumin concentration is low it is advisable to treat with Ponazuril anyway. Several factors however are encouraging, one is that immunity does appear to develop in both individuals and the herd and another is that like other coccidian parasites, healthy adults can have incidental findings of E. mac oocysts in their feces without ill effects (in my experience).
Although no formal research has been done on the best way to treat E. mac we know that Sulfas and Amprolium (Corid) only are only effective in the earliest stages of the infection. These stages are generally already past when the oocysts are found in feces. Another drug, Ponazuril (Marquis), used to treat an equine protozoal spinal parasite, has also been used to treat E. mac. The advantage of this drug is that it is effective in the later stages of the infection. Because Ponazuril is made for horses, it is too concentrated to use on alpacas as it is made. It is very water soluble and can easily be diluted. Measure out 40 grams of Ponazuril paste, using a gram scale, and then add distill water till the total weight is 60 grams and mix well; this results in a concentration of 100 mg/mL. Of this dilution, give 9 mg/lb (which equals 9 mL per 100 lbs), orally for 3 days. Since the equine paste has carrier as well as drug, this regimen should allow enough of the drug to given to be effective. Regardless of what drug is used, it is important to keep in mind that nothing stops shedding of the final stage of the parasite in feces. The importance of treating animals with clinical disease is to reduce survival of the multiplying stages of the parasite and resultant damage to the intestines.
Proper monitoring of internal parasites in Camelids can be challenging, especially in larger herds. Ideally a fecal exam should be done on each animal before any de-worming drugs are administered; this can be impractical in a large herd. In small herds (equal to or less than 10 animals) all animals should be tested, in a large herd 10% of the animals or at least 10 animals should be tested. If there are several Barns, then choose 2 to 3 from each Barn with the total equaling 10 (or more if feasible). When deciding which animals to choose, pick from a variety of ages and target the ones with the lowest Body Condition Score (BCS). This should be done a minimum of two times a year. In addition, it is a good idea to perform a fecal exam on every female immediately after giving birth as her immune system is at its lowest. Another opportune time would be to test crias a few weeks after weaning. Using this information a tailored de-worming program can be designed for any size herd.
For this information to be meaningful, the correct procedure should be used. There are many different techniques and variations written about. A recent article1 compared several techniques and floatation times. The conclusion was that the centrifugation-floatation technique, using concentrated sugar (specific gravity = 1.27) and a 60 minute floatation time was superior in detecting the parasites that have the potential for causing problems in Camelids.
In addition there are techniques to give a general idea of number of parasite eggs present or a specific number of eggs present per volume of feces. The latter is preferred and this technique is called eggs per gram (EPG). Please request this method when discussing the type of fecal exam needed with your veterinarian.
When discussing the results of fecal analysis, it is important to know how the numbers were obtained and what they mean. After proper preparation of the sample, each parasite egg seen on the slide is counted. As indicated previous, almost all Strongyle type parasites look very similar and are counted as a group. Nematodirus (a type of Strongyle) is a very unique egg and can and should be counted separately, especially as in some cases very low numbers of this parasite can represent a problem. Other distinctive eggs that should be counted separately are Whipworms, Capillaria, Tapeworms, and most Coccidians (especially the medium and large).
A frequently asked question is at what EPG should I de-worm my alpaca? There is not a simple answer to that question, even veterinarians cannot agree on the number! Two factors need to be taken into consideration. The first is which types of parasite eggs are found and the second is the BCS of the alpaca being tested. What is agreed upon is that if a fecal analysis reveals a significant EPG count, and the animal in question has a poor BCS, then the animal should be de-wormed. Conversely if a routine fecal analysis shows a "normal" amount of Strongyle type eggs in an alpaca that has a good BCS, de-worming is not needed or even desired. The big question is what is "normal" and what is "significant"? Truly it is a question without a definitive answer and you should work with your veterinarian to determine what is important for your herd. General guidelines for individual farms can be made after a series of fecal analysis over a period of time. If most of the time the results on your farm are less than 200 EPG of Strongyle type eggs then the de-wormer being used is still effective. If that number starts to climb, then you may have the start of a problem. The EPG number is lower when considering parasites such asWhipworms, Capillaria, Nematodirus and E. mac. It is very important to keep in mind treating the herd verses an individual animal. If you have an alpaca with a poor BCS, diarrhea, anemia and/or low protein, finding even 200 EPG of Strongyle type or 5 to 10 EPG (or less) of Whipworm, Capillaria, Nematodirus and/or E. mac will warrant treatment.
Many thought processes will need to be changed in the face of information learned by parasitologist and veterinarians over the last few years. One of the more major concepts to be changed is that alpaca owners are notorious for wanting to always have a negative fecal result in the animal being tested. Another is the desire to "rotate" drugs with each treatment.
Always having a negative fecal is a dangerous concept as it encourages the development of resistant parasites and it lowers the individual animals' immunity to parasite infection. Due to the development of resistance to current drugs used to de-worm, the strategies used to treat our animals must change. For many years parasitologist and veterinarians have recommended that all animals in a herd should be treated with a de-worming drug at the same time. This concept has proven unsustainable year after year. We are seeing that despite the supposed "cleaning" up of all the animals on a farm, there is still development of resistant parasites. The current approach is to selectively choose to treat only animals in need of treatment. This will leave a population of parasites that have not been exposed to specific drugs and will help prevent selection for resistance (term used by parasitologist is refugia). This will also take into consideration that 20-30% of animal's harbor 80% of the worms.
What does this mean for the alpaca owner? Using the guidelines presented earlier, test your animals. As it is not practical to test everyone, you will have to use BCS to decide which animals to treat. The whole herd should be evaluated (preferably by the same person each time) and a chart of BCS kept. Initially treat the animals with low BCS or any alpaca that seems to be underweight for age and size. As this process continues, any animal that has a negative change in BCS should be treated (and tested). A list should be kept of those treated and if a positive weight/BCS gain in thin animals is not seen, an individual fecal in those animals should be done. It is important to also check mucous membrane color (gums, sclera, vulva) when checking BCS to determine if anemic (pale mucous membranes). Keeping in mind that thin animals with parasites may have other concurrent problems so additional testing may be necessary. Specifically, have your veterinarian perform a Complete Blood Count (CBC + PCV) to check for anemia and a Chemistry analysis to assess liver and kidney function. Further testing may be necessary in certain situations.
Rotation of drugs unfortunately does not include the use of Avermectins (Ivermectin, Dectomax) due to the presence of Parelaphostrongylus tenuis (Meningeal worm) in the Eastern United States (anywhere white tail deer are found). These drugs are still the mainstay we must use to prevent infection. Also unfortunately due to the overuse of these drugs, many of the parasites (not the Meningeal worm) have developed irreversible resistance to these drugs. In the Southern United States, this problem is very severe. De-wormers with new mechanisms of action are 5 to 7 years away from being developed in the US, so it is important to change our way of thinking.
There are 3 classes of anthelmintics in use today with small ruminants: 1) Benzimidazoles (Panacur, Valbazen), 2) Cholinergic agonists (Levamisole), and 3) Avermectins, Milbemycins (Cydectin). None of these drugs are labeled for use in camelids, so the specific doses and frequency of administration are unknown. Several of these drugs have very narrow ranges of safety. Panacur has a very wide margin of safety, whereas Valbazen and Levamisole have a very narrow safety margin. The choice of which product to use is the big question. The best choice is to use the oldest class of drugs that still results in a 90% reduction of parasite eggs found in a fecal floatation. The only way to test this is to have a fecal analysis done before any de-worming is done and to repeat (on the same animal) the fecal analysis in 14 days. If you have the room to change pastures after de-worming, wait for 4 to 5 days after the last dose of drug is given. It is also recommended that when using oral products to withhold food overnight. This slows the flow of gastrointestinal contents and allows an increase in the time the drug is in contact with the parasite. Another way to increase the efficacy of a drug that seems to be losing its potency is to repeat dosing 12 hours apart, this will also increases the duration of contact between drug and parasite (works best with Benzimidazoles). The dosing information provided should be reviewed with your veterinarian when you are considering which de-worming product to use. These are the drugs most commonly used as dewormers, other drugs may have been used in camelids, check with your veterinarian for safety.
It must be remembered that use of chemicals to control parasites is only one step in an attempt to limit parasite infection in our alpacas. Other factors such as herd density, feeding practices (always feed hay off the ground), climate, age of animal, overall health of the herd, type of soil and the actual parasites already present in the animal/environment must be taken into consideration. With so many variables, developing a proper de-worming program for your herd will not happen over night. It will take some careful thought by you and your veterinarian and a willingness to make decisions that at first seem contrary to what "you have always done".
1. Comparison of methods to detect gastrointestinal parasites in llamas and alpacas. Cebra C, Stang B. JAVMA 2008; 232 (5):733-741.
2. Anthelmintic Resistance of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Small Ruminants. Fleming S, Craig T, Kaplan R, et al. J Vet Intern Med 2006;20:435-444.
These, ideally, should be taken from individual animals and not from a communal pooping area. This is important because it allows you to identify particular animals with problems and may show up patterns if you have a herd parasite problem. Take a latex examination glove with a little lubrication and take the feces directly from the rectum. Try to collect a good size sample - about 6-10 beans should be enough, though labs can work with less. Put it in a clean ziplock bag and clearly label with the animal's identification and the date. Take samples fresh and send away or give to your veterinarian the same day as soon as possible to prevent deterioration of the sample.
How many samples should I collect? We recommend collecting from 10% or 10 animals in your herd, whichever is the greater number. If you have fewer than 10 animals, then test them all.
Which animals? If you need to choose between animals, select those that may be a little on the skinny side and from a variety of ages. [While we're on the subject, routine body condition scoring in these heavily-fleeced animals will help you keep track of how good your feeding strategy is and also if there may be a parasite problem lurking in your herd.]
It is important that the correct procedure is performed for identifying parasites in camelid feces. Generally, camelids are a lot more susceptible to parasite problems than other species. Therefore, make sure that whoever is going to be doing your faecals knows the correct method to use. At OSU, we recommend doing a Stoll's test which involves a 1:5 dilution with a sugar solution. This is a lot more sensitive than a McMaster's which uses a 1:100 dilution and is therefore only able to pick up faecal egg counts down to 100 epg (eggs per gram). You may also conduct your own fecal tests. Please visit this site in the future to learn how.
Drugs and Doses:
Fenbendazole [eg. Panacur, Safeguard]:
Available in paste and liquid formulations generally to serve the equine and food animal markets respectively which is usually reflected in the price. Generally safe, can be used in pregnant dams and crias from a young age if required. Routine dosage: 15 to 20 mg/kg.
To figure out how much to give using the paste formulation, the weight scale on the plunger is usually based on a 5 mg/kg dosage. Therefore, multiply the animal's weight by 2 to 4 and use the dosing scale based on this. E.g. a 150 lb alpaca would receive the dose marked for a 300 (at 10 mg/kg) to 600 lb (at 20 mg/kg) horse. For the liquid formulations, this normally comes in a 10% suspension which contains 100mg/ml. Thus for a 20 mg/kg dose, you will need to give 2 ml per 10 kg (or 22 lb) or 10 ml per 50 kg (or 110 lb). In summary the range is 1 cc per 11 to 22 pounds. ( We dose 1 cc per 15 pounds ) You can use an oral dosing syringe for this or a dosing gun which normally comes with the larger packs.
Fenbendazole is available in a medicated feed formulation. This approach should only be used if you can ensure that all animals receive their prescribed dose: feeding in separate bowls may work but ensure that the animals low in the pecking order also receive theirs. Because of the higher dose recommended in camelids, animals may be required to eat more than they should and there can be the risk of grain overload.
Albendazole [eg. Valbezen]
Similar mode of action to fenbendazole but not quite as safe. Do not use in pregnant animals and use care when giving to young crias. Much better coverage for tapeworms than fenbendazole. Oral suspension.
Dosage: 10 mg/kg
Avermectins [eg. Ivomec, Dectomax]
Widely used for meningeal worm control. Meningeal worm prevention programs usually require ivermectin or doramectin to be given by injection every 30 to 45 days, respectively. Certain types of gastrointestinal parasites, such as nematodirus/whipworms/tapeworms, are highly resistant to avermectins. There not to be relied upon for control of gastrointestinal parasites. Avaiable in injectable (1% solution = 10 mg/ml), oral paste, and feed additive Dose: 300 ug/kg (1 cc of 1% injectable solution per 70 lbs body weight)
To repeat, we are increasingly diagnosing resistance among intestinal parasites in llamas and alpacas. Do a follow-up fecal exam 2 weeks after treatment to confirm that the treatment has worked. A fecal egg count reduction test (checking the parasite egg count before and 14 to 21 days after deworming medication is given) allows evaluation of deworming efficacy. We expect to see >90 % egg reduction if successful. These tests can be done using the Modified Stoll's Fecal Test - this is the only tests available sensitive enough to detect the low egg counts expected after deworming.
Nematodirus or Whipworms (egtrichuris)
These parasites are notoriously variable egg shedders. Even one egg identified on a fecal exam suggests a problem. Aggressive treatment may be required. Dose fenbendazole at 20 mg/kg for five consecutive days.
Significant strongyle load
Typically, a single dose of any of the various dewormers discussed is adequate for most strongyles. Occasionally heavy burdens are seen. Treat animals for 3-5 days at 20 mg/kg dose of fenbendazole when burdens are severe or damage from larval migrations is suspected.
Moderate strongyle load
A single dose of ivermectin, fenbendazole, or albendazole may be sufficient. If the animal is severely thin, then we recommend using a 3-5 day course as discussed.
Tapeworm [eg. moniezia]
Albendazole has better efficacy for tapeworm than fenbendazole. Use a 5 day course of fenbendazole at 50 mg/kg given once daily.
Coccidia [eg. Eimeria sp.]
Coccidia are protozoan parasites. Anthelmintic drugs as discussed for intestinal parasite treatment are no effective against protozoa. Coccidia is treated with sulfa drugs (e.g. sulfadimethoxine = albon), but is prevented by using specific drugs such as amprolium (e.g. Corid) or decoquinate (e.g. Decoxx). Label directions should be closely followed because overdosing these drugs can be harmful to the animals.
* Intestinal Parasite Control Program, Camelid Health Program, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, The Ohio State University, Produced by Claire Whitehead BVM&S MRCVS and David E Anderson DVM MS DACVS
Common External Parasites:
The most common aggravation in the barnyard, flies, seem to go hand in hand with raising animals. However there are some effective methods of control. Although primarily an annoyance, flies may cause problems such as eye irritations from feeding on tears, painful bites, and carrying disease from one animal to another. Manure removal is the most effective aspect of fly control since so many flies need manure for their eggs. A fly repellant can be most helpful on the legs of the alpaca. Disposable fly traps, although quite unsightly, can be hung around the area and can be quite effective trapping adult flies. Thousands of adult flies can be trapped per trap - and that's thousands that do not lay eggs and multiply. Natural predators can also be very beneficial in the reduction of flying critters such as flies and mosquitoes. Barn Swallows and Purple Martins both eat flying insects. It is claimed that Purple Martins eat as many as 2,000 mosquitoes a day. A bat house may also attract bats to your property which are beneficial in reducing flying insects at night. Powdered, granulated garlic can also be added to the alpaca feed to help keep the flies away from teh alpaca.
Other external parasites include mites, ticks, and lice. A mite, whose entire life cycle is spent on the animal, burrows into the outer layer of tender skin areas with thin hair coats such as the face, belly, chest, and legs causing Sarcoptic Mange. The area develops hairless spots, dandruff, scabs, and becomes crusty. It may or may not itch. As it develops, the skin becomes thick, crusty, and leather-like. Ivermectin injections are used as treatment as well as an external dousing of the area with a parasite control.
Two types of lice may infest alpacas - the biting lice and the sucking lice. The sucking lice feed entirely on blood and can cause anemia and spread disease. They prefer the head, neck and withers area where they actually imbed in the skin. Treatment is Ivomec injected 1cc/110 lbs. Biting lice nibble on hair and debris on the skin surface and can be seen with the naked eye when disrupted. They are found most often by the base of the tail or the side of the neck. Biting lice may be treated with Coral dust (also used to dust rose bushes) by parting the wool down the center of the back and pouring on the dust - about 3 Tbl. per adult alpaca or 1 Tbl./100 lbs. One method of applying the dust is to put the dosage into a mustard bottle and squeeze it out own the spine. Sevin, also a dust, is also used in the treatment of lice. If lice is diagnosed in the herd, it could be treated by putting the Seven in the alpacas dust bowls. The alpacas enjoy rolling in it and dust themselves.
Ticks can also infest alpacas, but the tick type is dependent upon the geographical area. The Rocky Mountain wood tick causing tick paralysis is not found in this Midwest area. Ticks attach to their host and feed on the blood. Remove a tick carefully and perhaps treat the bite with hydrogen peroxide.
Alpaca diseases - M. Haemolamae
One of the known alpaca diseases that you may not have heard of, but should be aware of, is Mycomplasma Haemolamae. It has been detected since the 1990's and was called Eperythrozoonosis or EPE. Recently the name has changed, but it's still the same disease. Alpaca health is very important to an alpaca business. Educating yourself about this disease will help protect your investment.
If you have an animal that is lethargic with chronic weight loss, you should consider M. Haemolamae as a possible cause.
M. Haemolamae is a bacteria that attaches itself to the red blood cells of an alpaca. The immune system recognizes this as a problem and destroys the red blood cells. Your alpaca then becomes anemic.
In the majority of alpacas infected with this bacteria, there are no signs of the disease. If your animal becomes immunocompromised through another one of the alpaca diseases or is stressed from a move or through other environmental changes, M. Haemolamae can rear its ugly head.
The disease can manifest as an acute problem. Your alpaca may suddenly be unable to stand and be extremely weak. Or it may be a chronic problem. As mentioned before, your alpaca may have chronic weight loss and lethargy.
If you suspect infection with M. haemolamae, have your vet do a PCR (polymer chain reaction) test. This test amplifies the DNA so low levels of the bacteria can be detected on the red blood cells.
This is one of the alpaca diseases thought to be spread by blood. Blood sucking insects such as lice, fleas, and ticks should be kept to a minimum on your farm. Only use a clean unused needle on each individual alpaca when giving injections. Needles are cheap. There is no reason to reuse a needle on another alpaca and risk the chance of transmitting a disease (besides, you dull the needle after the first use and it hurts more).
M. Haemolamae is treated with tetracyline. Check with a vet for doses. Unfortunately, it appears that tetracycline does not completely rid the infected animal of this bacteria, but only lowers it to undetectable levels.
Once infected, an alpaca becomes a carrier. They will not have problems with the disease unless they become immunocompromised. This is an opportunistic bacteria.
The problem with having a carrier in your herd is that a flea could bite the carrier and then bite another animal passing on the bacterium.
If you suspect M Haemolamae in an alpaca, you should probably test your whole herd and treat any animal with positive PCR results. Otherwise, you could have a reinfection of the disease.
Treated animals usually go on to live a long healthy life. Even though they have not gotten rid of the disease, they can live with it.
It's important to evaluate alpacas when sheared or learn body-scoring so you can spot a thin alpaca before purchasing. You should, also, require a PCR test before purchasing. The M Haemolamae carrier may look fine, but you bring them home and they infect your herd causing problems.
Here's a couple of interesting facts about camelid red blood cells:
They have a lifespan of 235 days vs 100 days for human red blood cells.
Camelids have oval red blood cells instead of round like other mammals. This gives them a large surface area so there is better oxygen exchange which helps them survive at higher, thinner air altitudes in their native South America.
The unusual shape of an alpacas red blood cell makes understanding alpaca diseases a challenge to veterinarians.
M. Haemolamae is thought to be in 25% of camelids (alpacas and llamas) in the United States.
More studies are being done to try and eliminate alpaca diseases. Until something better is found for Mycoplasma Haemolamae, keep the insect population down on your farm and test and treat to keep it in check if present.
Alpaca Stomach Ulcers:
Alpaca stomach ulcers are not uncommon. Ulcers can very easily lead to an alpaca death, so it is important to prevent this alpaca disease. Unfortunately, alpacas are stoic and it is hard to know that your alpaca is developing an ulcer until they are well advanced.
Death occurs because the ulcer has penetrated the stomach wall and stomach contents spill into the abdominal cavity causing peritonitis (infection). The alpaca’s condition rapidly deteriorates when this happens and the alpaca dies. Since we do not want to lose an alpaca, preventing ulcers is important. How do we do that? Let's begin with what causes alpaca stomach ulcers.
ULCER CAUSES: An overproduction of gastric acid upsets the delicate PH balance in the third compartment of an alpaca’s digestive system. The terminal end of the third compartment is where acid is produced. Just like humans, excess acid is produced when an alpaca is stressed. Stress appears to be the greatest cause of ulcers in alpacas.
Inappropriate diet can, also, cause alpaca stomach ulcers. A diet high in grains is hard for alpacas to digest. Corn and wheat are the hardest and oats are the easiest to digest. So think a lot about what you are giving your alpacas for treats.
SYMPTOMS: How do you know if your alpaca has an ulcer? Well, ulcers are mostly diagnosed by the process of eliminating everything else.
Think possible ulcer if you see these symptoms:
- Cushing a lot
- Cushing in an abnormal position
- Grinding teeth (indication of pain)
- Not eating
- Excess salivation
- Lack of stools
- Black stools (bleeding)
- Restless - laying down and getting up frequently
In young alpacas you may observe these symptoms:
- Kicking at abdomen
When calling your vet about a sick alpaca, don't forget to include recent activities. It is important for the vet to know if your alpaca was stressed. Have they been transported recently, gone to a show, weaned, or hospitalized?
TREATMENT: Once your alpaca develops an ulcer, it is important to treat it quickly to prevent perforation of the stomach wall.
Doctor Geoffrey Smith, Professor of Ruminant Medicine at North Carolina State University, did a study on Llamas and concluded that Omeprazole given intravenously works very well on camelids. Oral omeprazole was not very effective. It appears that bacteria in the first compartment degrade the oral medicine making it less effective by the time it reaches the third compartment where the ulcer probably exists. IV fluids and a prophylactic antibiotic are needed, too.
PREVENTION OF ULCERS: Ideally, you want to keep your alpaca from developing ulcers in the first place.
Start by reducing stress. Always use the buddy system. Aanimals and will be less stressed when kept with herd mates. A lot of ulcers are formed when animals are hospitalized by themselves.
-Avoid overcrowding your herd
-Delay weaning a cria if it has any health problems
Other things to avoid to prevent formation of ulcers:
-Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as bute or banamine and gluccocorticoids - cortisone can cause ulcers so use with caution.
-Give very little grains. Alpacas should be eating mostly high quality hay.
Alpaca stomach ulcers have a high mortality. Prevent ulcer development by reducing stress and feeding an appropriate diet. A happy alpaca is a healthy alpaca.
“Bloat” is defined as tympany of the first stomach compartment. Bloat occurs when rumen gas production exceeds the rate of gas elimination. Gas then accumulates causing distention of the rumen. The skin on the left side of the animal behind the last rib may appear distended. Bloat can be a medical emergency, and timely intervention may be necessary to prevent death. Bloat is a common cause of sudden death in livestock. It usually results from nutritional causes.
Bloat in other ruminant species is usually classified as primary (frothy) or secondary (free-gas). Alpacas or llamas, grazing in the natural pastures of the Andean region never showed frothy bloat. Also, these animals have been observed to graze on alfalfa or clover pastures without bloating, and this would normally produce bloat in conventional ruminants. Cases of free-gas bloat do occur, albeit infrequently, probably due to toxic plants.
Frothy Bloat (pasture bloat)
Frothy bloat is usually associated with the consumption of legumous forages, but may also occur in sheep grazing lush cereal grain pastures or wet grass pastures or consuming grain that is too finely ground. Animals with frothy bloat can be treated with anti-foaming agents such as cooking oil or mineral oil or a commercial product such as Poloxalene.
Free Gas Bloat (feed lot bloat)
Free grass bloat is associated with grain feeding and occurs when animals were not given enough of an adjustment period. Many of the same factors causing acidosis are associated with free-gas bloat. Simple passage of a stomach tube may be effective at relieving free gas bloat. Inserting a trochar or needle into the abdomen is a life-saving procedure that should only be attempted as a last resort.
General Info: The following is provided as information only. * Source of info: Washington State University, College of Vet Medicine.
- All vaccinations are off label in alpacas as the population of alpaca in North America is still very small, therefore effectiveness and safety are not guaranteed by the manufacturers. Consult with your veterinarian to determine an appropriate vaccination protocol.
- Avoid modified-live vaccines in pregnant animals.
- Vaccines may not completely prevent infections but often moderate the disease symptoms experienced by the animal.
- Vaccinations should be used to complement not replace management techniques for disease prevention.
- Individual animal response to a vaccine is variable and can be affected by many factors such as stress, immune status at time of vaccination, and proper storage and administration of the vaccine. A sick animal will not respond as well as a healthy animal. Vaccinate a week or two prior to a stressful event such as shipping or weaning.
- Initial vaccinations generally require boosters to generate adequate protection due to the need to prime the immune system and the potential for interference from waning maternal colostral antibodies.
Commonly Used Vaccinations:
- Clostridium perfringens type C, D, and C. tetani
- A commonly used vaccine. C. perfringens has been implicated in diarrhea and sudden deaths in crias and occasionally adults. All animals are at risk for tetanus following infection primarily through wounds, castrations, etc.
- One common vaccination schedule is vaccination of adults yearly; pregnant females 4-6 weeks prior to parturition; crias at 3-4 months old and again 4 weeks later then yearly thereafter. Other protocols are also used and can be tailored to suit individual farm situations.
Commonly Used Antibiotics:
Naxcel - Naxcel Sterile Powder (ceftiofur sodium) is use for treatment of respiratory disease or pneumonia associated with Mannheimia spp. (Pasteurella haemolytica), Pasteurella multocida and Haemophilus somnus. Naxcel is also indicated for treatment of foot rot, pododermatitis associated with Fusobacterium necrophorum and Bacteroides melaninogenicus.
Spectrum - Naxcel is a broad spectrum cephalosporin antibiotic active against gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria, including beta-lactamase-producing strains. It has also been demonstrated against E. coli, Salmonella spp., Streptococcus spp., Moraxella bovis and Actinomyces pyogen.
Absorbtion - It is absorbed within 1-4 hours after injection.
Dosage - The recommended dosage is 0.1 to 1.0 mg/lb of body weight (1 to 2 mL reconstituted sterile solution per 100 lb body weight) - or .35 cc per 20 lbs. Treatment should be repeated at 24-hour intervals for a total of 3 consecutive days. Additional treatments may be administered on days 4 and 5 for animals that do not show a satisfactory response (not recovered) after the initial three treatments. Selection of treatment duration should be based on the practitioner's judgment of severity of disease (i.e., for respiratory disease, extent of elevated body temperature, depressed physical appearance, increased respiratory rate, coughing and/or loss of appetite; and for foot rot, extent of swelling, lesion and severity of lameness).
Storage - The unreconstituted powder requires no refrigeration; after reconstitution, the product must be refrigerated.
Potency - Reconstituted Naxcel solution can be stored for up to 7 days in a refrigerator or 12 hours at room temperature. Reconstituted Naxel can be frozen for future use for up to 8 weeks. Avoid usage in young cria up to 4 months.
Clostridium Perfringens Type A Toxoid:
- Recently developed vaccine for use in cattle.
- Evaluated at WSU VTH on alpacas
- No vaccine site reactions were seen.
- This product was NOT evaluated on pregnant animals.
- Titers were measured and results indicated an immune response occurred but the degree of protection provided is unknown at this time.
Other Clostridial Vaccines:
- Vaccinates against a broad spectrum of clostridial bacteria.
- Some contain tetanus.
- Vaccine site reactions have been reported with some products.
- 7-way and 8-way clostridial vaccines available. The number refers to the number of diseases the vaccine prevents.
West Nile Virus:
- Alpacas are considered at low risk of developing clinical signs after infection with this virus. However the most common signs of infection are neurological usually progressing to death of the animal even with intensive medical treatments.
- Only consider use in areas with known West Nile virus.
- Adverse reactions to the vaccine have ranged from mild injection site reactions to anaphylaxis. Try to avoid vaccinating breeding females within 60 days of breeding or 30 days of parturition.
- There are two vaccine products that have been used in alpacas: Ft. Dodge West Nile-Innovator - Research showed 3 doses, 3 weeks apart, generated the highest titer response. Challenge studies evaluating vaccine protection in camelids have not been performed.
- Merial Recombitek Equine WNV vaccine - No published research but the product has been evaluated on alpacas.
- Consider in areas where the disease is endemic. May need to re-vaccinate up to 3-4 times a year.
- Clinical signs vary from fever and anorexia, kidney and liver damage, and abortions.
- There are many serovars or types of Leptospira. Vaccines only include the more common serovars found in cattle so protection may be incomplete.
- Prevention can be increased by limiting rodent and wildlife contact and vaccinating dogs that may have contact with the herd.
- There are currently no licensed vaccines for use in alpacas. Rabies has been reported in camelids. In the state of Massachusetts, the rabies vaccination is not required for alpacas at the time of this posting.
- Rabies vaccinations can only be performed by veterinarians.
- Consider yearly vaccinations in endemic areas which can be given as early as 3-6 months of age.
- Proof of vaccination may not be sufficient if an animal is exposed leading to quarantine or euthanasia.
Equine Herpes Virus 1:
A disease has been infrequently reported in camelids. Infected animals exhibit neurological signs needed, use the killed vaccine product and vaccinate every 12 weeks.
3. Physical Assessment:
Hands-on physical assessment of each animal should be done regularly, at least twice a year. This should include weighing and/or body scoring (See Fig. A), mucous membrane color check (inner eyelid or gums), condition of incisors, and fiber coat evaluation. Weight loss, body score changes, pale color, listlessness or clumped stool should be cause for a more detailed health assessment such as fecal analysis, veterinary exam, and blood analysis. Excess weight gain should prompt a review of diet and activity.
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Body Condition Scoring (BCS):
For alpacas, BCS should be done by firm palpation of spine and ribs. Fiber can distort body contour and be misleading. Only by hands on BCS can one determine if the animal is fit, fat or thin. Values based on a scale of 1-10, or 1 to 5, palpate backbone in mid-back & ribs behind forearm.
Toenail Trimming :Trim toenails if growth threatens lameness or compromises soundness. For additional info on foot anatomy/leg conformation, and toenail problems, click here.
Alpaca's toenails grow continuously throughout their lives. Alpacas that reside in hard rocky ground in the mountains of Peru, Chili and Bolivia will naturally wear their toenails short. Alpacas in North America generally are more sedentary and have less area to exercise, or live on soft ground. As a result their toenails tend to grow longer. Long toenails may curve causing the toe to twist. This will pinch the pad and eventually it will break off painfully. This will cause lameness, and in order to avoid such problems, toenail trimming should be a part of routine care. Start at the back edges of each nail and work forward towards the point. Be careful not to cut in the edge of the pad since cuts will bleed and expose the Alpaca to the risk of infection. If you are a beginner, be conservative and leave more toenail as a margin for error. As you become more experienced you will find it very easy to trim your Alpaca's nails short without hurting them. When trimming the inside of the toenail, it helps to spread the toes apart with you fingers to allow more space for your nail clippers. Once you have trimmed both sides of the nail, remove the point with one final cut perpendicular to the line of the nail.
Long curved nails may cause the Alpaca's entire toe to twist uncomfortably. One trimming may not be enough to allow the toe and nail to grow straight. It will be important to trim this animal's nails regularly, at least once a month until the toes and the nails remain straight. When the edge of a toenail has folded under to press on the pad, do not try to simply unfold it and cut it off. Trim the surrounding nail; gently unfold the folded part of the nail as far as possible without causing the nail to break off. Trim the nail back with several cuts in order to avoid cutting into the quick. Trim this toenail every 2 to 3 weeks until it returns to normal.
If you accidentally cut into the quick and cause some bleeding, finish trimming the nail, then if it has not stopped bleeding, apply direct pressure to the area until it does. Pouring some 7% Iodine over the area will also help to stop the bleeding and will act as a disinfectant. Watch the Alpaca over the next few days in case an infection or lameness develops.
Alpacas seldom have problems associated with their feet. Alpacas normally walk on their middle and distal (furthest out) bones in their feet, called phalanges. These are anatomically equivalent to the bones of the middle part and tip of our fingers. The toenail surrounds and protrudes from the tip of each distal phalanx. The pad on the bottom of the foot resembles a dog's footpad, but is much tougher.
Lameness or limping is an indication of pain or mechanical problems in an Alpaca's legs. Among the most common causes of lameness are foot problems. Either the nails are too long or damaged, or bruises, cracks, cuts, or infection of footpad. Other causes may be ankle sprain or an injury higher up the leg.
An alpacas teeth grow continuously for about the first eight years of the alpacas life, then the growth does slow down considerably. Ideally the two front bottom teeth should be lined up just under the dental pad. Not a frequent occurance, but when we see the teeth start to grow towards the end of the pad we will trim them back. If the teeth happen to grow over they could be forced forward and the angle could change. They could be cut back at this point but they may never grow straight again due to the angle of the teeth. This is not to say that you should not trim those teeth back, even though they will not be perfect, your alpaca will look better and most importantly have the ability to eat and graze normally.
Novice Handler Syndrome:
This syndrome is a long recognized condition where an over-handled or bottle-fed cria accepts people as its herd and then fulfils his natural desire to dominate the herd and become physically intimidating. It particularly applies to males but female alpacas can become disrespectful and difficult too.
Clucking and spitting are the more likely outcome but occasionally females also are physically menacing. We have seen one of these “bazerk” alpacas. He is extremely dangerous and in our opinion should be “put down” – he could easily kill either a child or an adult straying into his paddock. This extreme behavior is caused ENTIRELY by the way the alpaca is handled as a cria, and for this reason is now known as “Novice Handler Syndrome”. Prevention is easier than cure!
One very important facet of the “Novice Handler Syndrome” previously known as “Bazerk Alpaca Syndrome” is the tendency of people to misinterpret the beginnings of aggressive behavior for friendliness. Young alpaca babies that rub, lean, stand closely, or walk right up and put their nose in your face or crotch and fail to yield space when you move toward them are not being friendly.
These behaviors are the beginnings of aggression – the alpaca is checking out the boundaries of behavior to see what is allowed. If you do nothing to discourage this seemingly “friendly” behaviour it usually escalates and the alpaca can become completely unmanageable While there is nothing wrong with a young alpaca soliciting a greeting with neck and nose extended and then waiting politely for you to lean forward to participate in the greeting, sticking his nose in your face any time he feels like it is crossing the line of allowable behavior. Be clear about the fact that you have a personal space and he is not allowed in it.
A human need only stop an animal from entering this space; we do not need to chase him away. Tell the alpaca what you want him to do: “STAY BACK”. However, remember to be a teacher rather than a boss and don’t participate in dominance contests with your alpacas (“I will show this animal who is the boss” attitude). Treat males and female babies the same – insist on respectful behavior from both sexes but avoid confrontation.
If you are bottle feeding you need to ensure the cria remains in the herd even if he is motherless, and that he is handled to an absolute minimum – feed him and walk away! Cria (alpaca babies) do best if they have other babies to play with. With other babies around in many cases, the whole problem becomes a non-issue.
The best alpacas are those raised by older alpacas who are well treated and correctly handled.
Fiber: Preparing for Fiber Harvest
As Alpaca Fiber becomes a larger part of each farm's business plan, it is important that more thought and attention goes into harvesting each years fiber crop to ensure maximum value and usability throughout the value-add chain. Shearing Day can be the most important day of the year on an alpaca farm.
If you do not do your shearing yourself, it is important to talk with the shearer before hand to make sure they know you process the fiber each year and are looking to maximize the value of the harvested fiber. Second Cuts are the enemy of processors everywhere. You want a uniform staple length throughout the blanket and as consistent as possible throughout the rest of the animal. Have your shearers focus on getting usable fiber off the animal first, and once it is separated have them go back and tidy up the animal.
Vegetable Matter - Vegetable matter and other foreign objects have a tendency to lock into fiber, especially crias, and it becomes quite a chore for sorters to work through a fleece if it is highly contaminated. Sorting on a commercial scale boils down to efficiency and accuracy and the system breaks down quickly if sorters are tied up working on trouble fleeces. To help prevent this clean paddocks and pastures of loose hay and bedding. Also clean barns of winter bedding and sweep daily. Keeping the barn and paddocks clean one month prior to shearing will reduce the vegetable matter greatly at shearing time. It also helps to feed alpacas close to ground level in the days leading up to shearing day, whether it be in a trough or low hay racks. This will prevent hay catching in the nap of the neck.
Cleanliness - If you are keeping your animals on dry lot while they wait to be sheared, spray the area down to cut down on dust and to prevent them from rolling around on the ground and picking up a ton of extra dirt in their fleeces. Many use a dry vac or blower on their animals to clean as much dirt and debris off them as possible which helps while processing, as well as saving unneeded wear and tear on your combs and cutters. If you are shearing on the ground, put down a tarp large enough to catch all the fiber as it comes off the animal so you are not picking it up off the ground.
Colors - Most farms start off with their lightest animals and shear from light to dark to ensure the fiber collections for each animal do not become color contaminated. Have plastic bags pre-labeled with specific animal and grade ready to catch each grade of fiber as it comes off the animal. It is also helpful at this time to be skirting away armpit and chest guard hair before bagging up your fiber as it becomes a chore to go through and do this after the fact. Between colors, thoroughly clean the area of excess fiber to prevent cross contamination.
Dry Fiber - In a perfect world, the sun will be shining for two full weeks prior to shearing day/weekend but as alpaca farmers know all to well, the weather does not always cooperate. Before bagging up your fiber to store and or ship in to be processed, it is very important the fiber is completely dry to prevent mold damage which will rot the fiber, causing it to become brittle and useless in commercial manufacturing. If your animals are not 100% dry, make sure to let the fiber dry out properly before bagging it up.
By cutting down on second cuts, vegetable matter, excess dirt, color contamination, armpit and chest guard hair, and keeping your fiber dry you will be making the very most for this year's upcoming fiber harvest. The next steps are to get that fiber out of your barns, basements, college bound children's old bedrooms, and into the supply chain. Check your local fiber cooperatives - they are more than happy to receive your fiber right after shearing season to get it into the manufacturing chain. This will ensure the fiber gets put to use right away, when it is freshest and least susceptible to contamination or moth damage, returning the most value per pound processed.
Terminology: Hand Breeding: One male, one female, breeding takes place, and the male is then separated this is the most common method at most farms. Pen breeding: One male, one female, leaving them together for a defined period of amount of time. Pasture breeding: One male, multiple females.
The simple act of breeding can have a major impact to an alpaca female uterus. Generally, it repairs itself after a period of time, 7-20 days. The uterus requires a certain amount of time to heal itself after a birth and regain a normal non-pregnant shape. This is the reason why many breeders choose to wait nearly three weeks before rebreeding. Studies have shown that this is common in open alpaca ranges of Peru. Repeatable breedings at short intervals or unnecessary breedings can do irreparable damage to a female. This action has the effect of shortening the breeding life of a female. The goal is to breed females, keeping the damage to her uterus minimal. To do this requires a good understanding of a female's cycle and her receptiveness to a male.
The Cycle: Each of the two ovaries of an alpaca produce follicles on a regular cycle that equals 11-1/2 days from beginning of growth to its demise. Each ovary cycle is complementary of the other. This cycle for each ovary is depicted on the accompanying chart using the sine waves as a method of showing the growth and disintegration of each follicle of each ovary. Since we have a 11-1/2 day cycle for each ovary, the combined breeding cycle of both horns is 5.75 days. So each 5.75 days the female will become produce a follicle. The prime breeding time is approximately 3 days on the approach to the top or at the top of each cycle for each ovary as indicated in red and blue. (see chart below).
This information (click here for pdf) is made available from Dr. Walter Bravo, DVM. (Reference: The Reproductive Process of South American Camelids' by P. Walter Bravo (ISBN 0-9719073-0-7). The book is out of print, but copies may be found out there!)
Alpaca female receptiveness to a male will vary depending upon where she is in her specific cycle. She may run around a pen and spit but eventually sit down and be bred by the male regardless where she in her cycle, but unless she is bred in the period near the top of an ovary cycle, she will not get pregnant.
In a perfect world a female at the prime breeding time in her cycle will sit down immediately for a male, but the world is not perfect and most female alpacas can't read the manuals. Some females are not very receptive to a male's approach even when she is at her peak breeding time. These females are difficult to determine their cycle and may cause multiple breedings to get them pregnant. Using the following methods you can determine when your experienced female is receptive or going to be receptive without breeding. It can also be used in a limited manner on maidens as well, I will explain later.
Of course, there are other factors, that cause a female to be infertile. However, even in those medically challenged females this method will tell you sooner, with less damage to her uterus, if you have a problem.
Once the female has been bred the first time (as either a maiden or the first time after giving birth) her natural cycle is interrupted and the chart can no longer be used to accurately predict her ovulation cycle.
Breeding Schedules-Experienced Females:
If you can get a female to sit and be bred routinely every 5-6 days, you may never get her pregnant, regardless if she's a maiden or not. If you are unsure when your female will be receptive your first job is to determine where she is in her cycle. If she recently gave birth and you know the birth date grab a calendar and do a little calculation. Determine the number of days that have passed since her recent cria was born. Divide that number by 11.5. Example: Cria was born April 4 and it's now June 4. Where is she in her cycle? Let's see where she will be at the top of her closest cycle. April 5 to April 30 = 26 days; Note: Days start on the day after birth. Days are inclusive (of days between April 5 and 30th) so it's not 30-5, instead it's 30-5 +1. May = 31 + 4 in June = 61 days. 61 days =10.61 cycles of 5.75 days each. 11 full cycles would be 11 x 5.75 = 63.25 So on 61.00-63.25 = 2.25 days or June 6.25 so on June 7 she will be at her cycle peak. If your calculations are accurate she should sit down for the male immediately the afternoon of June 6, all day on June 7 and the morning on the June 8. This is a conservative estimate, your female may vary.
We have determined this cycle has a time limit on it's accuracy. It appears each female's cycle vary's a little bit from on female to another. The chart works well for about 3 sometimes 4 months but beyond that you will be able to use it to get close.
Not all maidens will behave the same when a male is present regardless where she is at the peak in her cycle or not. In most females you can determine when she is receptive without breeding her. By putting her in with a male she may display many types of behavior. The behavior you're looking for is for her to immediately sit down for a male. This will tell you she is receptive and near or at the top of her cycle.
Of course, everybody has a female that does not behave quite like you would hope. She runs and spits every time she's in with a male. This type of female, unfortunately, you may have to breed a couple or three times before you find out exactly where she is in her cycle and get pregnant. And of course, even if you do have a female that sits down immediately you may have to rebreed anyway.
When Do You Re-breed?
Assuming you didn't get her pregnant on the first try, you're going to have to rebreed her. what is the best interval to use? The best way to determine this is to find out all days that she will not be receptive and determine how many days, or part of a day, do you have to wait until she becomes receptive to male.
To reduce damage to the uterus you shouldn't breed every 2-3 days. Many folks will breed females twice or three times then wait a period of 4 to 7 days to allow uterus to heal, then repeat the cycle. I think everybody has their own way of breeding females. Keep in mind if you wait 5.5 days between breedings, you may never get her pregnant.
Finding the Cycle:
Should you not know where she is in her ovulating cycle, worst case scenario would be you expose this female to a male at the last hour after the current follicle has disintegrated. How long do you have to wait until she is receptive again? From the chart let's select day 24 as an example. Early in day 24 she may no longer be receptive and the current follicle is in the process of disintegrating. The next time she will ovulate is day 27 so you have to wait about three days. So to hit it in the middle use four days. From any point on the chart where the female will not be receptive, 4 days later she will be receptive.
As said above: Once the female has been bred the first time (as either a maiden or the first time after giving birth) her natural cycle is interrupted and the chart can no longer be used to accurately predict her ovulation cycle.
This is a work-in-progress. A lot of which (beyond the work by Dr. P. Walter Bravo, DVM) is experimental. There has not been any scientific studies (other than those done by Dr. Bravo) to set it in stone.
The best way to determine how the chart works for you is when you have open females stand them next to a (sturdy) fence with breeding male(s) on the other side. Normally, open females will sit down next to the fence when they are ready to breed (ovulating). Not all females (or males) will act this way but those that do you can make note of the day and hour and compare it to the chart. If your female does not sit down, try to notice a difference in the way the female reacts to the male. Some even though they are not pregnant they may spit at the male (or you!). Regardless of the reaction, track how the female reacts. This is a good way of verifying the receptiveness of the female without breeding them and you will determine when you should breed her.
Xylazine (0.1-0.2 mg/kg, IV) can be used for sedation without recumbency; higher dosages (0.3-0.4 mg/kg, IV) will result in recumbency and provide a light plane of anesthesia for 20-30 min. Xylazine (0.25 mg/kg, IV, or 0.35 mg/kg, IM) followed by ketamine (3-5 mg/kg, IV, or 5-8 mg/kg, IM) 15 min later will provide 30-60 min of restraint. Simultaneous administration of xylazine (0.4 mg/kg, IM) and ketamine (4.0 mg/kg, IM) will usually provide 15-20 min of restraint. Butorphanol (0.1-0.2 mg/kg, IM) can provide sedation of short duration.
Alpacas tolerate general anesthesia well and usually do not require tranquilization before induction.
Premedication with atropine (0.02 mg/kg, IV, or 0.04 mg/kg, IM) will prevent bradyarrhythmias and decrease salivary secretions. Induction and maintenance of anesthesia are similar to that in other domestic species.
Although disease resistance is not an adaptive characteristic to high and semi-desert environments, we will discuss this advantage.
Few clinically important viral disease have been reported. Researchers over the world have reported a few positive serologic test results, indicating exposure to viruses, but no evidence of clinical disease has been presented. Foot and Mouth Disease has been reported as an experimentally induced disease in South American Camelids with very slight symptoms.
The species are relatively resistant to infection by the virus. They could be involved in transmission of the virus (for a very short period, after being artificially infected), rather than a clinical disease presentation.
One of the major economic problems in the Peruvian sheep industry is the so called "Sheep Pulmonary Adenomatosis" (or ovine pulmonary carcinoma). Alpacas or llamas are immune to this disease. This disease is caused by a virus that produces an ultimately fatal lung tumor, which was been experimentally transmitted to lambs. This chronic, progressive and ultimately fatal disease is untreatable.
Pulmonary adenomatosis in sheep frequently co-exist with ovine progressive pneumonia. Culling effected animals is, as yet, the only way to flight both diseases.
Also, South American Camelids are resistant to foot-rot, by far the most common disease in sheep. It is highly contagious, particularly during the rainy season, Alpacas are animals that like to graze in the "bofedales" (Bofedales are areas with constant moisture underground, retaining a fresh green color during the dry season). Footrot has never been reported in the alpaca and it is very rare in llamas that like to graze in drier areas.
They are resistant to copper deficiency: no case of "swayback" has been observed in camelids.
Epididymitis is a testicular inflammation found in a variety of domestic male animals, especially in sheep, and causing ram infertility and abortion in pregnant ewes. This disease is mainly caused by Brucella ovis. Not a singly case of epididymitis has been reported in alpacas, except in cases of traumatic injury to the scrotal content.
As a corollary, it should be mentioned that in the late 1970s, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization defined the ideal animal for the future. The animal should be, said FAO, a ruminant; it should need little water; it should be highly fertile; and it should provide people with protein and other products. The alpaca and llama fit the ideal. To find an animal of the future, people need look no further than the camelids.
, Retired Principal Professor, Head of the Camelids Section and Laboratories at the High Altitude Research Station "La Raya", IVITA, San Marcos University, Lima, Peru. Leading International Alpaca judge.
Passive Immunity Transfer and Plasma Transfusions for Alpaca Crias
This section was written to help alpaca owners gain a better understanding of the passive immunity transfer process, what can be managed to help insure the transfer is taking place, and what to do if failure of passive immunity transfer is noted. Procedures in this article are written in layman’s terms to help alpaca owners better understand the process. Only qualified veterinarians should conduct activities such as blood draws and plasma transfusions.
Septicemia is a major cause of alpaca cria deaths in the first few months of life. It is defined as the invasion of the blood stream by virulent microorganisms from a local seat of infection.
Alpaca crias do not have antibodies from their mother at birth and do not have the ability to produce adequate amounts of IgG (immunoglobulin or antibodies) for the first six to twelve weeks of life to protect them from diseases. Instead, alpaca crias obtain their immunity to many diseases by drinking colostrum or “first mother’s milk,” which is absorbed in the intestines of the cria. The thick, rich, yellowish milk that is the first milk produced by an alpaca dam after giving birth is called colostrum. The immunoglobulin (IgG) in the colostrum is absorbed through the cria’s intestinal wall before the protein is digested by the digestive system. The IgG is then circulated in the cria’s blood system. This is nature’s way of giving the cria the protection it needs from many diseases during the first few months of life. This process is called passive immunity transfer.
There are many reasons why the process may fail. Alpaca breeders can help insure that passive immunity transfer takes place by managing for success.
Managing for Successful Passive Immunity Transfer
1. Pre-birthing CD Booster. Most veterinarians recommend giving the dam a pre-birthing booster thirty to sixty days prior to the due date. A clostridium CD&T booster will increase the dam’s immunity level and help insure that the colostrum she does produce will contain higher levels of immunoglobulin antibodies to clostridium.
2. Temperature. Under ideal conditions, the cria will gain body temperature to about 101° Fahrenheit. If the environmental temperature is low or the cria is hypothermic (below normal body temperature), dry it off and warm it up immediately after birthing. If the cria were to remain hypothermic, the absorption of the colostrum is greatly diminished. Warming the cria to a normal body temperature of 101°F is very important for good absorption of IgG.
3. Timing is Everything. The newborn cria should nurse colostrum from the dam within two to six hours and absorb the IgG that is in the colostrum through its intestines. Information compiled by Triple J Farms shows that after twenty-four hours, virtually no IgG can be naturally absorbed through the intestinal wall. (Note: Premature crias do not follow this rule.)
4. Pull the Plug. Insure the dam’s teats are actual- ly giving colostrum. Check the teats to insure the small, wax-like “plug” in the opening of each teat has come out on its own. If not, you need to remove it yourself. Check to see that each teat is able to produce milk. Do not milk out more than one or two drops from each as this is the colostrum, and you do not want to waste it. Just ensure that it is free flowing upon nursing by the cria. If the dam is not producing colostrum or milk, call your veterinarian. He/ she may decide to administer a milk letdown drug such as oxytocin.
5. Colostrum Replacement. If the dam is not producing colostrum, for what ever reason, or if the cria is not nursing successfully, intervention is necessary. If some alpaca colostrum is available from a previous donor it should be bottle fed to the cria within two hours of birthing and completed by 12 hours after birthing. Cow or goat colostrum is a second option, although it is usually much less effective than alpaca colostrum.
6. Mother May I? Watch to see that the dam will accept and stand still for the cria to nurse. Also insure that the cria is able to stand, find the udder, and make a connection on the teats. One common sign that the cria is successfully nursing is to watch for the cria’s tail to rise during nursing.
7. Milk – It does a cria good! Monitor the cria’s condition very closely during the first 24 hours to see that it is gaining in strength and alertness, is easily nursing on its own, and that it develops into a somewhat regular nursing pattern. The cria should nurse every few hours for two to four minutes each nursing. If it is nursing much more frequently or does not continuously nurse for over two minutes at a time, the dam may not be producing adequate amounts of milk. If the dam is not producing milk, condensed canned goat’s milk (available in large supermarkets and can be stored at home on the shelf unopened for several months) should be bottle fed to the cria. The condensed goat’s milk will give the cria nourishment, but will not give it any IgG and
a plasma transfusion may still be necessary.
8. Blood Donation. Testing a blood sample for IgG can give you a good idea of the success or failure of the passive immunity transfer process. Your veterinarian should take a blood sample from the cria at eighteen to twenty-four hours after birthing. This sample is typically taken from the jugular vein. The alpaca owner can help the veterinarian take this sample by firmly holding the cria’s head during the procedure. An experienced veterinarian can usually take this sample in just a few minutes. Your veterinarian will place this sample in a red-top test tube that is spun and the serum removed. The sample should be sent to a laboratory that is able to conduct IgG testing. M & M Laboratories and Kent Laboratories both conduct this test. The sample does not have to be shipped overnight service, but it will expedite the testing and facilitate quicker reporting of the results to your veterinarian. (Some veterinarians purchase test plate kits from Triple J Farms and conduct the test themselves. However a lab can provide additional information about the blood sample.)
9. Lab Time/FAX Time. The lab will fax the results of the blood sample test back to your veterinarian, often on the same day it receives the sample for testing. Your onsite veterinarian may need to consult with the laboratory, an alpaca consulting veterinarian, or the plasma supplier on each case. Discuss the interpreta- tion of the IgG and other blood sample data with your veterinarian.
10. General Guidelines:
a. IgG level less than 800 (eight hundred) mg/dl Passive transfer may not have occurred at a sufficient level and a plasma transfusion should be considered. Some insurance companies now require crias younger than ninety days of age to have a minimum IgG test result of 800 (eight hundred) mg/dl.
b. IgG level greater than 800 (eight hundred) mg/dl Passive transfer may have occurred at a sufficient level and a transfusion may not be necessary.
c. In all cases, other factors should be considered in deciding whether to perform a plasma transfusion. Will the cria remain at the same farm or be transported within the next several months? Will the cria be exposed to outside pathogens? Does the cria appear alert, healthy, and full of energy? Does the cria have any other health issues?
If the decision is made that the level of passive transfer is not adequate for the set of circumstances, a plasma transfusion should be considered.
Intravenous and Intraperitoneal Plasma Transfusions
There are two types of plasma transfusions:
Intravenous and Intraperitoneal. Both should be performed only by your veterinarian.
Intravenous plasma transfusions are administered by your veterinarian by very slowly dripping prewarmed plasma through an IV into the jugular vein. This process takes about one and one-half hours to three hours. Intravenous plasma transfusions should be considered when:
a. A cria is in a health situation where an IV is already in use
b. The cria is not able to stand on its own. (Some veterinarians have observed that a cria should be able to stand and move around freely following an IP transfusion or the IP plasma may tend to pool in the abdominal cavity and not be affective.)
c. The cria has some abdominal health issues such as sour stomach or sore belly
IV transfusions may be considered to be more dangerous to the cria at the time of the transfusion than intraperitoneal transfusions because of direct infusion of the plasma into the blood stream. They are more time consuming to administer because your veterinarian must insure the IV plasma bag is elevated and stays properly connected to the cria for the entire procedure. The cria does not have to be immobilized during this time, but personnel must be in the exam room or pen with the cria the entire time. The advantage is that there is no chance for injury of internal organs or peritonitis as can occur if improper techniques are used in administering an IP transfusion.
Intraperitoneal plasma transfusions are administered by your veterinarian by making a small incision in the cria’s skin on the right upper flank and infusing plasma into the peritoneal cavity. The plasma must be carefully pre-warmed to body temperature before it is introduced rapidly into the abdomen of the cria. This IP transfusion takes about ten minutes. Intraperitoneal plasma transfusions are the most common and should be considered when the cria:
a. Can stand on its own and will be able to move about freely after the procedure
b. Does not have any abdominal health issues such as sour stomach or sore belly
c. Does not have an IV in place for other health reasons IP transfusions also require aseptic conditions. Poor sanitation can lead to infection in the abdomen causing peritonitis and result in the death of the cria. NOTE: It is important that a blunt-ended infusion tube or plastic IV catheter be used for insertion in the abdomen. Caution should be taken to avoid lacerations to internal organs.
As with any medical procedure, your cria is at some level of risk during a plasma transfusion. But with dangerously low IgG levels, the cria’s chance of dying without the transfusion may be high, especially if the cria will not be staying on the same farm. There is, however, some controversy as to which method of plasma transfusion is best. Some intravenous plasma transfusions have resulted in immediate deaths of crias, which were reported to appear to be the results of shock. Some intraperitoneal plasma transfusions have resulted in cria deaths that appeared to be the result of poor sanitary conditions or nicks in internal organs caused by using sharp needles instead of blunt-end infusion tubes.
Field veterinarians tend to prefer intraperitoneal plasma transfusions. Many field veterinarians will not perform intravenous plasma transfusions. However, some veterinarians in clinical hospitals prefer intravenous plasma transfusions. There is a controversy as to which type of plasma transfusion is best. Alpaca owners need to work closely with their veterinarian to evaluate which transfusion method should be used in their particular case.
Materials for Intraperitoneal Plasma Transfusions
1. Camelid Plasma: We recommend keeping two 300 ml bags of 2,500 mg/dl (high concentration) plasma on hand any time a cria is due. The plasma may be from alpacas or llamas and should be prepared by a reputable, professional supplier. The plasma is frozen in sealed bags, packed with dry ice inside a Styrofoam container and then shipped by overnight delivery. You need to make arrangements to accept the shipment and place it in a freezer as soon as it arrives. The plasma bags will have information printed on the label as to the date that it was drawn, the number of ml in the bag and the concentration (ml/dl) of the sample. Plasma will keep for about three years if kept frozen in a chest type freezer that does not have an automatic defroster and the sample is truly frozen the entire time. Plasma sells for about $90 per bag.
2. Infusion Tube: This is a 12- gauge, blunt-end tube with two side ports and is used for intraperitoneal cavity transfusions. Your veterinarian will need to sterilize the blunt-end tube prior to use. (price: $4). Note: Some veterinarians prefer to use plastic 16-gauge IV catheters for IP transfusions and exercise caution when in use to avoid lacerations to internal organs.
3. Administration Kit: This kit has a series of tubes, couplers, and valves and is used by your veterinarian to control the flow of plasma from the plasma bag to the infusion tube. It is a Y-type blood/solution set with a large standard blood filter. It is made by Baxter (product number 2C6714). It comes boxed as a complete set and is used only one time for a transfusion. The kit sells for about $12.
Description of Your Veterinarian Performing Intraperitoneal
1. If your veterinarian has determined that the cria’s blood sample IgG test level and/or other factors indicate a plasma transfusion is necessary, make the necessary arrangements to transport the cria to the vet clinic. If you are not able to transport the cria, the veterinarian may have to perform the procedure at your ranch.
2. Your veterinarian will calculate the amount of plasma needed to transfuse into the cria to bring the IgG up to an acceptable level. In general, a 300 ml bag of high-level plasma will raise an alpaca cria’s IgG level about 800 mg/dl. The following chart may be used for the calculation:
Example Serum IgG Calculation:
For this example, calculation of the actual IgG test result from the cria’s blood sample was 616 mg/dl. The cria’s weight was 17 pounds and the donor IgG.
3. Veterinarian needs to insure all equipment is available for the procedure
4. The bag(s) of plasma must be carefully warmed to near body temperature before it is introduced into the cria. DO NOT WARM IN MICROWAVE as this will damage the properties of the immunoglobulin. Carefully remove the bags of plasma from the storage containers and use caution to not crack the plastic bag material as it may be brittle. Thaw the frozen plasma by placing the sealed bag in a large pan. Continuously run warm water (no warmer than 101° F) into the pan until the bag is completely thawed. The bag will need to be turned carefully in the water to slowly mix the plasma as it warms up. When the entire bag is warm to the touch of your skin (about 100° F) it is ready to transfuse. Do not try to keep the plasma warm for very long as it may parboil the blood plasma proteins.
5. Veterinarian prepares the cria for the transfusion:
a. Some veterinarians administer butorphanol sedation, others administer Banamine.
b. Hang the bag of warm plasma on an IV bag stand near the examination table.
c. Connect the administration kit infusion lines to the bag of plasma and follow directions on the box to insure all air has been forced out of the lines. Lock the valve.
d. Some veterinarians place the cria on table with the right side of the body facing up
e. Two assistants should hold the cria firmly on the table. It works best for one assistant to hold one hand on the tail area and their other hand on both back legs near the knee joints. The legs should be toward the veterinarian. The second assistant should hold one hand around the front legs near the knee joints and their other hand holding the head and neck down on the table. Other techniques can also be utilized.
f. Veterinarian locates the area between the front of the rear thigh, the last rib and the backbone, clips a two inch area down to the skin and uses tape to hold fleece away from the site. They will also avoid any obvious skin veins when locating the incision target site.
g. Scrub the area well.
h. Veterinarian injects Lidocaine in the incision site just under the skin.
i. Veterinarian cuts a 3 mm incision in the skin.
j. Next he pushes a three inch blunt-end, two port infusion tube through the incision and through the peritoneal wall. (Notes: Do not use a sharp tipped needle as it might cut internal organs if the cria should move around. Some veterinarians prefer to use a 16 gauge plastic IV catheter to go through the skin hole and into the abdomen. This may require “tenting up” the skin.)
k. Connect the infusion lines from the plasma bag to the blunt-end tube. Dr. Greg Mobley connects an administration kit infusion line to a warm bag of plasma that has been hung from an IV stand near the examination table.
l. Run the warm plasma into the body cavity in a total time of only five to ten minutes.
m. Shut off the valve on the plasma line as the last amount runs down to it.
n. Remove the blunt-end tube.
o. Glue the skin hole or suture the incision with one or two sutures.
p. Place the cria back in the alpaca pen with the dam and monitor for 30 minutes to insure no signs of shock occur. The cria should move about freely.
q. Cria may appear bloated and have some slight weight gain because of the added fluid in the abdomen.
r. Take another blood draw from the cria about 48 hours after the transfusion and have the sample analyzed for IgG.
s. Discuss the results with your veterinarian and proceed accordingly.
t. If the expected results are not achieved, a second transfusion may be necessary.
Hopefully this article has helped alpaca owners gain a better understanding of the passive transfer process, what can be done to help insure that it takes place and what to do if failure of passive transfer is noted. We would like to acknowledge the following individuals who have made significant contributions to this article. All have been generous in sharing information as a means to raise the knowledge level of alpaca owners:
Bill and Sherri Duey of Southern Iowa Alpacas Ranch
C. Norman Evans DVM – Llama Wellness Services, Inc., Madisonville, KY
Stephen R. Purdy DVM – Dept. of Veterinary and Animal Science, University of Massachusetts., Amherst, MA
Dr. Claire Whitehead – Resident, Camelid Health, Ohio State University
Greg Mobley DVM – Albia Animal Clinic, Albia, IA Mel Hoskin – Medical Technologist, M and M
Laboratories, Milan, MI
Donald Jorgensen – Immunologist, Triple J Farms, Bellingham, WA
Having an IgG reading on a new cria can be a great tool, as it can help plan a course of action should a cria's immune system be compromised. Many alpaca breeders have found it extremely difficult or expensive to have the test performed. Fortunately, it's an inexpensive lab test that anyone can easily do at home.
1.) The first step is to order the Radial Immunodifusion (RID) plate number 628411 and the 080919 Wiretrol pipettes from Triple J Farms. The combined cost will be $88 plus overnight shipping. ($35 to the East Coast ) This will allow you to do about 20 tests.
The RID plate is where the serum is deposited in order to get the IgG reading, and the pipettes are like a miniature syringe, allowing you to easily measure the correct amount of serum. When it arrives, note the storage info, the RID plate needs to be stored in the refrigerator, face down. When you have some free time, it's time to get your RID plate set up.
2.) Put it in a well lit area, and if you have a black book or piece of paper to set it on, it will be much easier to visualize while you work. It will come with 4 tubes of serum, and a fill record to mark each well position. Each serum will be marked with the IgG level, ranging from about 200 to about 2500, with #2 being right about 800. These will serve as your benchmark. Shake the tube before drawing the serum
3.) First, mark the IgG of the lowest tube in the fill record for well A1.
4.) We'll now use the pipette to measure the exact amount of serum to put in the well. Draw the plunger up so that it fills to the black line. The white, thicker mark should be on the handle end. Too much, the reading will be high, to little, it will be low.
5.) Next, we'll deposit the serum into the well.
6.) We'll repeat the process for the remaining serums, from lowest to highest, put the cover back on the RID plate, and relax for 24 hours. Looking at it from time to time will give you an idea of how it progresses.
7.) Now it's time to get the results. It's readily apparent that the higher IgG will create a larger ring.
8.) You will now have a reference, and the practice you need when it's time to perform an IgG test on a cria.
When that happy day arrives, and you are ready to test your brand new cria, blood should be collected when she is at least 24 hours old. (Note the optimism, it's a girl) The blood should be collected in a red stopper tube. Store the tube upright for a couple of hours at room temperature. The red stuff will sink to the bottom, the clear stuff (serum) will rise to the top. Alternatively, it can be centrifuged for 5 minutes. You can usually find a used centrifuge on e-bay for about $80-$100. Pull the serum out just as you did for the reference serum, place it in the next well, record the fill time, and go play with your new cria.
Mark the cria (or dam) name on the tube, and when you're finished with it, store it away in case you end up needing it for another DNA sample, or if you make a mistake in filling the well properly.
It will be apparent within a couple of hours if the cria's IgG level is going to be acceptable, however the ring will continue to grow for 24 hours.
According to DR. Evans' Field Manual and the research from Triple J Farms, we'd like to see a minimum IgG of 800. One important note is that this applies only to the measurement method of this plate. There are other methods, and the numbers will be completely different.
A quick comparison of ring sizes can be done. If it's larger than the 800 ring from your reference serum, you're in good shape. If it's smaller, it would be wise to consult your vet. You'll quickly learn to guesstimate the IgG and have a number as a reference. While not precise, it does clue you in to potential problems. For those that want the exact numbers, directions come with the plate to allow you to create a graph and plot the exact IgG reading.
For more info on IgG and it's importance, see http://kentlabs.com/articles_igghealth.html
Blood Collection Tubes
Complete Blood Count (CBC):
EDTA tubes (purple top):
Purple top tubes should be 50-60% full. Do not overfill tubes.
Gently mix specimen by inverting 5-10 times and place it on a rocker for up to 30 minutes, then refrigerate at 2-8°C. When a differential is required as part of a CBC, slides must be prepared within 12 hours of blood collection.
Refrigerated EDTA blood is stable for CBC for up to 24 hours. Clotted or hemolyzed specimens are unacceptable. Check for clots by using a clean wooden applicator stick and gently swirling blood in tube.
EDTA microtainers must be “shaken” 10-15 times to overcome the surface tension within the tube
Plain or serum separator tube (red top or SST, red/camouflage top):
SST tubes should be at least 50-80% full and should be mixed.
No mixing is necessary with plain tubes.
Both plain and SST tubes must be allowed to clot at 4°C for 30 minutes - 60 minutes. Then the samples must be centrifuged at 7000rpm for 10 minutes and the serum decanted and frozen at -80°C for clinical chemistry analysis.
Heparin tube (green top – chemistry/blood gas):
Tubes should be at least 50% full.
Gently mix specimen by inverting 8-10 times and place immediately on at 4°C for 30 minutes - 60 minutes before spinning in a centrifuge, although the exact time allowable may be protocol specific.
Sodium citrate tubes (blue top):
Citrate tubes should be filled to the top.
Gently mix specimen by inverting at least 5-6 times and place immediately at 4°C for up to 30 minutes before spinning in a centrifuge.
Sodium fluoride tubes (gray top):
Tubes should be at least 65-80% full.
Gently mix specimen by inverting 5-6 times and place immediately at 4°C for up to 30 minutes before spinning in a centrifuge
If blood is placed into tubes after removing the tube tops, care must be taken not to cross contaminate tubes containing anticoagulant. It is best to remove the needle before filling the tubes.
Take capillary tube and place finger on the end of tube that has the blue or red fill line mark on it.
Place other end of the capillary tube into the tip of a blood filled syringe, in a drop of blood on Parafilm, or along the edge of a tube of blood (being careful not to spill it!).
Release finger and allow blood to fill the capillary tube (If possible to the blue or red line) by capillary action. If less blood is available, fill as full as is possible.